Hoffa says union support for oil drilling in Alaska not hurting relationship with Democrats

Posted: Sunday, August 12, 2001

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Teamsters president James Hoffa says his union's support of President Bush's plan to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is not creating a rift with Democrats.

And he said he would try to convince Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., not to go through with a pledge to block the measure when it comes up in the Senate.

The drilling plan narrowly passed the House last month, and intense lobbying by some labor unions was credited with changing the minds of key Democrats who had opposed Bush's plan.

''I'll talk to Joe Lieberman on this,'' Hoffa said on CNN's ''Evans, Novak, Hunt and Shields,'' broadcast Saturday. ''I think we've got to turn people around. You know, they said we couldn't do this in the House, and we were able to do it. We think we can do it in the Senate.''

Hoffa said drilling for oil in ANWR would strengthen the nation's economy and create hundreds of thousands of jobs.

''It makes us more independent of Saddam Hussein and other people who control our oil. It creates jobs,'' he said of Bush's plan.

The House-passed version of the plan requires that no more than 2,000 acres of the refuge be permanently affected by drilling activities across the 1.5 million-acre coastal plain that is believed to contain between 5.6 billion and 16 billion barrels of oil.

Environmentalists discount the 2,000-acre limit, saying it does not cover exploratory activities and that development still could be scattered across the refuge plain.

While the Teamsters and Republicans have found common ground on domestic oil drilling, Hoffa said they remain at odds over allowing Mexican trucks greater access to U.S. roads.

The trucks currently are restricted to an area 20 miles north of the border. Bush wants to comply with the North American Free Trade Agreement, which called for unlimited access throughout the United States by Mexican trucks beginning Jan. 1.

But under a recently approved Senate bill, that would not happen until Mexican trucking companies are audited by visiting U.S. officials, border stations get more inspectors and scales, and insurance, driving and other standards are met.

''Let's get some inspection stations,'' Hoffa said. ''Let's raise the standards for our brothers of Mexico. Let's get better trucks, better training and then let's move on from there.''

He denied that the Teamsters were worried about losing jobs to Mexico. He said safety on American roads was the issue.

''Highway safety is important,'' Hoffa said. ''We're not going to sacrifice it. We're not going to compromise it.''



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