ANWR review unnecessary, Lieberman says

Posted: Friday, April 05, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Sen. Joseph Lieberman says he objects to the Interior Department's decision to take another look at a report that found oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge could harm caribou populations.

The report, issued by the U.S. Geological Survey last month, predicts how wildlife on ANWR's coastal plain would be affected under five different development scenarios. USGS Director Charles Groat said in a letter accompanying the report that the ''impact may range from none to substantial.''

But Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, said the ANWR drilling proposal before Congress is not covered by the report. For that reason, Groat said he has ''asked the scientists who undertook these studies to provide additional analyses of these new scenarios.''

Groat said he expected to receive the new analyses within 10 days. That would be roughly the time Congress returns from its Easter break and the Senate takes up an energy bill. Alaska senators are expected to try to amend the bill to allow oil drilling in the coastal plain.

Lieberman, D-Conn., in a Thursday letter to Interior Secretary Gale Norton, said the USGS is moving too fast.

''In my view, any additional analyses should stem from the same exhaustive research and meet the same rigorous scientific standards as that which the department released last week, rather than meeting a politically motivated timeline,'' the Connecticut Democrat said in his letter.

He asked Norton to provide him with an explanation of how the decision to update the report was made.

Lieberman said he was pleased with the initial report's conclusions.

''In my view, the report makes clear what other scientists have stated: that oil development in the Arctic Refuge coastal plain would pose a substantial risk to wildlife populations, including caribou, musk oxen, snow geese, and polar bears,'' he wrote. ''It also affirms the unique and incomparable ecological and wilderness values of the coastal plain.''

But Brian Malnak, Murkowski's top aide on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said the report will not be relevant to the coming debate unless it is updated.

The report's highest-impact scenario, for example, calls for a jet-capable regional airport in ANWR and a year-round gravel road stretching across the coastal plain, he said. That's not going to happen, he said.

''Sen. Murkowski would not support the development scenario that was called for in the USGS report,'' Malnak said. ''It's not responsible.''

The second-least disruptive scenario most closely matches current proposals, Malnak said, but even it is too different to be useful.

The agency needs to compare the restrictions in the House-passed development scenario -- including a 2,000-acre limit on disturbed acreage -- to the most recent assessment of the location and size of the oil pools, he said.

Doing so shouldn't take too long, he said.

''Whatever information they put in their model, they should be able to run that same model based on today's scenarios,'' Malnak said of the USGS.



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