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Young credits unions for keeping drilling provisions in energy bill

Posted: Thursday, August 02, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A lobbying push from labor unions helped turn back an amendment that would have blocked oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, members of Congress said late Wednesday night.

The U.S. House voted 223-206 to defeat the anti-drilling amendment, prompting Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, to shout ''Yeah!'' and pump his fist in the air on the House floor.

The vote means the House's final national energy legislation, approved a few minutes after 8 p.m. Alaska time, proposes to open the coastal plain of ANWR to oil drilling.

The energy package now goes to the Senate, where opponents say the ANWR-opening language has no chance of survival.

Young thanked a White House lobbyist outside the House chambers Wednesday night, saying, ''You guys did your homework.''

But he told the Washington correspondent of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that President Bush's support was not the key to his victory.

''I don't know whether he was that engaged,'' Young said. ''I give total credit to this to the unions.''

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., the anti-drilling amendment's sponsor, agreed. Building trade union representatives stopped his progress, he said. By midday Wednesday, when he couldn't find more than 210 supporters for his amendment, he suspected he would lose the vote.

Minnesota Rep. James Oberstar said he heard some Republicans say ''right up until the vote'' that they thought Markey would prevail.

''I think the building trades had a very significant impact,'' said Oberstar, one of 36 Democrats to vote against Markey's amendment. Thirty-four Republicans voted for it.

Jerry Hood, chief executive officer of the Alaska Teamsters, said in a news release following the vote that ''at a time of widespread layoffs and economic slowdown, opening ANWR will lead to the creation of more than 735,000 new jobs all across America.''

One measure of labor's influence came last week when the Teamsters were able to convince the normally closed House Democratic Caucus to open its doors for a presentation on ANWR. The Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call reported Monday that some Democrats, worried about the precedent, convinced the caucus leadership to also invite representatives from the Sierra Club and Alaska Wilderness League.

The presentation turned into ''an Oxford-style debate,'' the newspaper reported.

In addition to preserving the ANWR-opening language Wednesday night, the House also voted 241-186 to spend the federal half of ANWR leasing revenue on renewable energy research and federal land maintenance.

Another amendment, approved 228-201, would limit the total development acreage in the coastal plain to 2,000 acres.

Young voted for both amendments.

''We talked this over with the oil companies and we're confident we can do this,'' he said.

The 2,000-acre figure has been central to the debate for months. Pro-drilling forces say that's all that would be disturbed out of the 1.5-million-acre coastal plain. Opponents say the disturbance would be greater because the work would spread out in a web.

Young showed a picture of a well he said is producing 100,000 barrels a day in the Alpine field on the North Slope. The area disturbed by the well, he said, ''is less than the size of the floor on which we speak tonight.''

Young told drilling opponents who cite environmental concerns that ''you don't know what you're talking about.''

''How dare you stand there and talk about something when you've never even been there? Shame on you,'' he said before briefly stalking off the floor.

Drilling opponents also questioned the benefits of developing ANWR oil.

''Drilling in the Arctic will make Japan very happy because that's where this oil is going,'' said Rep. Chris Shays of Connecticut.

That claim brought Young out of his seat to walk over and wag a finger at his fellow Republican, an exchange that stalled floor debate briefly.

''He told an outright lie,'' Young said after the vote. The energy bill, as amended in the House Resources Committee, contains language banning exports of ANWR oil, he noted.

''We're not shipping any oil to Japan anyway, so it's really a moot question,'' he said.

All the energy expended on the ANWR provision in the House could come to naught in the Senate, where Majority Leader Tom Daschle has declared drilling provision dead on arrival.

Markey, after the vote, predicted certain death for the ANWR provision in the Senate.

''This is just a temporary bump in the road toward permanent wilderness protection,'' he said.

U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski said Wednesday reports of the demise in the Senate of ANWR drilling have been greatly exaggerated.

''I look forward to full and honest debate on ANWR in the Senate,'' he said.



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