Conference committee pulls ANWR reference from budget bill

Posted: Friday, April 14, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A joint congressional conference committee has pulled any mention of drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from a compromise budget bill.

But Sen. Frank Murkowski said Thursday he wasn't giving up.

Murkowski, R-Alaska and chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said there are other ways of forcing the issue.

''We are not finished by any means,'' Murkowski said.

Murkowski and other backers of ANWR drilling cheered last week when the Senate approved a budget measure that assumed $1.2 billion would be raised from a lease sale in the year 2005.

A move to strike the provision was killed on a 51-49 vote. That was seen as a test of Senate support for the drilling.

But the House version of the budget bill contains no such provision.

Budget negotiators settled on a compromise late Wednesday that deleted any mention of leasing in the refuge's coastal plain. That area is regarded as a likely place for a major oil discovery.

House negotiators insisted on dropping the drilling provision after receiving a letter signed by 18 Republicans.

''The House has never affirmatively authorized drilling in the arctic refuge,'' the letter said. ''Doing so would represent a major new policy path with serious fiscal and environmental ramifications.''

Environmentalists applauded the action.

''While we know that the battle is not over, the 2001 budget sends a clear message to multinational oil corporations and their political allies: Democrats, Republicans and the citizens across the country won't allow them to use the facade of rising oil prices and national security to plunder America's Serengeti,'' said Adam Kolton of the Alaska Wilderness League.

Murkowski, meanwhile, has already introduced one ANWR development bill and plans to include a drilling provision in a larger energy package that will be introduced in coming weeks.

And Murkowski may not be stalled even under the budget process.

The budget bill will result in directives to the various congressional committees about how much money they have to spend and raise over the next five years.

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