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Senate rejects oil drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Posted: Thursday, April 18, 2002

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Senate by a wide margin on Thursday rejected oil development in an Arctic wildlife refuge that has been a centerpiece of the Bush administration's energy agenda.

Senate Republicans fell 14 votes short, 54-46, of the 60 needed to break a Democratic filibuster and allow a vote on an amendment to open the wildlife refuge to oil companies.

Given the vote, the amendment's sponsors were expected to withdraw it, clearing the way for approval of an energy bill by the Senate, possibly next week.

The size of the Republican defeat, with pro-drilling forces falling short of even a majority, signaled that oil development of the Alaska refuge may be dead in Congress for this year.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said President Bush would continue to fight for opening the refuge. But he sidestepped a question on whether Bush would sign an energy bill that does not include refuge drilling.

The Senate ''missed an opportunity to lead America to greater energy independence,'' said Fleischer.

Eight Republicans joined most Democrats in opposing the drilling measure. Five Democrats supported the drilling amendment, offered by the two Alaska senators.

While the House last summer approved drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, that bill will have to be reconciled with legislation expected to be passed by the Senate. Drilling supporters in Congress and at the White House have worried that a poor showing in the Senate might jeopardize getting a drilling measure out of the House-Senate negotiations.

Drilling supporters argued the refuge's oil was essential for America's energy security and its development would produce tens of thousands of jobs.

But Democrats said no oil would flow for a decade and would have little impact in oil imports or fuel prices.

''Development (of the refuge) would irreversibly damage this natural resource,'' said Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., a leader of the filibuster.

Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, who has led the fight to open the refuge, said that without ANWR drilling ''there is not one single thing in this energy bill that increases oil production.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, blamed ''radical environmental organizations'' for shutting off a needed energy resource. His state would receive half of the royalties from oil taken from the refuge.

An attempt to gain some pro-drilling votes by funneling money from future Arctic refuge oil leases to help steelworkers and coal miners was rejected 64-36.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., who has led efforts in the Senate to try to help steelworkers facing economic hard times, called the proposal ''an empty promise'' that could later be dropped, and urged its rejection.

Drilling for the billions of barrels of oil believed to lie beneath the 1.5 million-acre coastal plain of the sprawling refuge has been the most contentious issue facing senators trying to craft energy legislation.

Bush repeatedly has argued that the oil can be extracted without harming the environment or wildlife, and he has cited Iraq's current oil embargo as proof that new drilling is needed more than ever.

But environmentalists and many Senate Democrats -- as well as a handful of GOP senators -- argued the oil can be found elsewhere without risking the refuge and its wildlife, including a herd of 123,000 caribou that calves each year on the coastal plain.

During two days of sometimes emotional debate, drilling supporters assailed ''radical'' environmentalists who have opposed drilling and talked as much about the recent turmoil in the Middle East and Iraq's suspension of oil shipments as about the refuge itself.

''There's an inferno in the Mideast and we're importing more than 50 percent of our oil,'' said Murkowski, arguing that extracting the oil in ANWR is a matter of national security because it will cut the need for imports.

Drilling opponents scoffed at that argument.

''I've learned a few lessons about national security as a soldier and a senator, but the mathematics I learned in elementary school prove that Arctic drilling won't make a difference for national security,'' said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., a decorated Vietnam veteran.

Kerry said the United States has 3 percent of the world's oil and uses 25 percent of the supply. ''The solution is not in the Arctic,'' he said.

If energy security was the issue, he said, Republicans should have supported his proposal, which was rejected earlier, to require increased automobile fuel efficiency.

The drilling issue has attracted intense lobbying by environmentalists who have made it their No. 1 issue. Stung last summer when the Republican-controlled House passed an energy bill that would open the refuge to oil development, they vowed to press the issue in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

''Oil rigs do not belong in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge,'' said Mark Van Putten, president of the National Wildlife Federation.

Geologists believe ANWR's 1.5 million-acre coastal plain may contain 11.6 billion barrels of oil, almost as much as has been taken from nearby Prudhoe Bay.

At peak production, ANWR would supply about 1.9 million barrels a day, according to the Interior Department estimates. The United States today uses 19 million barrels a day, 57 percent of that from imports.

As the Senate vote neared, lobbyists for the Teamsters touted the jobs that drilling would produce. Rival Alaska native groups have flown in from the North Slope to argue both for and against drilling. The state of Alaska, which would get half the royalties from oil development, has poured millions of dollars into the pro-drilling effort.

The big oil companies, however, largely have kept silent, their attention on exploration elsewhere.



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