FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge returns to the congressional stage Wednesday with a House committee hearing that will feature proponents and opponents of oil drilling.
The hearing follows a week in which several Democratic members of Congress visited the refuge. They included Reps. Jay Inslee of Washington, Loretta Sanchez of California, Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Betty McCollum of Minnesota.
Securing legislation to open the refuge to drilling remains a challenge for Alaska's congressional delegation.
The House Resources Committee, in late June, removed money for ANWR-drilling studies from the annual Interior Department spending bill after protests from Democrats. That was followed by the full House passing several amendments backed by environmental groups -- a show of strength that defied the Republican leadership.
On Wednesday, the House Resources Committee will hear from Interior Secretary Gale Norton, who visited the refuge for the second time in mid-June and continues to advocate drilling.
Joining her at the hearing will be Jerry Hood, president of the Teamsters in Alaska. The Teamsters union has been one of the more active unions backing drilling.
Another Alaskan at the table Wednesday will be Richard Glenn, now vice president of lands with the Arctic Slope Regional Corp. in Barrow. ASRC owns subsurface rights to acreage on the northern edge of the refuge. It obtained the rights in the late 1980s through a land swap with the Interior Department in which the corporation agreed not to drill unless Congress opens the entire coastal plain to such work.
Arguing to keep the drills out will be Adam Kolton of the Alaska Wilderness League and Linda Lance of The Wilderness Society.
Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that her group continues to view pro-drilling efforts in Congress as a threat.
''Despite public opinion, the administration seems totally determined to advocate their drilling proposal,'' Shogan said.
The Senate Energy Committee, under the chairmanship of Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman, also will consider energy legislation this week.
ANWR isn't specifically on the agenda, but ''I think it's almost a 100 percent likelihood that it will come up,'' said Bill Wicker, spokesman for Democratic committee members.
The committee has a full schedule of hearings on national energy legislation through July to the annual August recess.
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