FAIRBANKS -- A key member of the Senate committee considering drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has announced she will support pro-development forces.
The decision by Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana to support oil drilling in ANWR likely gives development proponents a one-vote edge in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which is considering the issue.
Landrieu announced her position in mid-August during appearances in Lafayette, La., and Shreveport, La., according to spokeswoman Maria Purdy. She said Landrieu has not yet said much about why she is breaking with most other Democrats on the issue.
The Republican-led House approved an energy bill last month that would open ANWR's coastal plain to drilling. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is working on its version of energy legislation.
The committee's ranking Republican, Sen. Frank Murkowski of Alaska, has said he believes the committee will support ANWR drilling.
With Landrieu's decision made, ANWR development language has an improved chance of making it out of the committee and to the full Senate floor. However, there is no guarantee, given the kind of maneuvering and trading that can occur during committee work.
The uncertainty was illustrated last week by the position taken by Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii. Akaka spokesman Paul Cardus told the Washington bureau of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner earlier this summer that the senator supports ANWR drilling. He has voted that way in the past.
But while that's still true ''as a matter of policy,'' Cardus said Friday, Akaka cannot yet commit to voting for an amendment in committee that would accomplish that. It depends on what the amendment looks like and what the rest of the bill looks like, Cardus said.
''If you have to choose -- yes, no, or undecided -- put us as undecided,'' Cardus said.
While Landrieu and Akaka appear to differ from their colleagues on the Democratic side of the committee, on the Republican side it is Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon who has taken an independent path. Smith says ''not yet'' to proposals to drill in ANWR.
Bill Wicker, spokesman for the Energy Committee's Democratic majority, said work on the Senate bill will not begin until the second week of September.
The ANWR question itself probably will not come up until the third week in September, Wicker said. The committee plans to work on car mileage standards first. Oil and gas issues, including ANWR, will follow, and then the committee will move to electricity reform, he said.
If a bill with ANWR-opening language reaches the Senate floor, it faces a filibuster threat. Several senators have promised to filibuster any bill that opens ANWR. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said he may filibuster any energy bill that does not.
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