Senators say ANWR drilling chances better after attack

Posted: Thursday, September 27, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Alaska's senators are not bringing up the subject, but when asked, they say that prospects for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge improved after hijacked jets crashed into the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

''I think we've got an issue here whose time has come,'' said Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, while talking with reporters Friday.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said he senses ''a softening, if not a change, in position.''

The legislative path toward that end, though, was muddied last week when a senator from Oklahoma introduced amendments that could attach oil-drilling language to a military funding bill.

Republican Sen. James Inhofe announced that he would introduce two energy-related amendments to the Defense authorization bill that senators started debating Friday.

One amendment would add to the national energy policy bill that the House passed in early August. The other amendment would be attached to an energy policy bill developed by Murkowski before the Alaska senator lost his chairmanship of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Both Inhofe proposals contain language to open ANWR to oil drilling. Just a few hours before Inhofe introduced his amendments Wednesday, Murkowski had said that adding such language to the Defense bill would be inappropriate and in poor taste.

On Friday, Murkowski declined to criticize Inhofe's action, of which he said he had no warning. Murkowski said he recognized that the Oklahoma senator strongly believes that energy policy is a national security issue.

However, Murkowski did not endorse Inhofe's move.

''We've always had a path for ANWR, and we've not deviated from that path. It belongs in an energy bill,'' Murkowski said.

Murkowski said he told Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., chairman of the Energy Committee, that energy legislation is needed to open ANWR.

''When we've discussed it, I have indicated to him that ANWR will be in the bill, and he has not acknowledged one way or another,'' Murkowski said.

Murkowski is generally considered to have the votes in committee to make that happen, but the fate of such legislation on the Senate floor, where opponents have threatened a filibuster, is less certain.

He declined to speculate on whether the hijacked jet crashes on Sept. 11 have made Senate passage easier.

''I'm not going to generalize 'easiness,''' he said. ''I think we all have a responsibility -- and we have a bipartisan approach to our responsibility -- to try and reduce our dependence on imported sources of energy and this is a very significant way to do it.''

The House, in its energy bill passed in early August, approved drilling in ANWR. Work on the Senate energy legislation should resume this week, Murkowski said. He described it several times as an ''expedited energy security'' bill and said it needed to improve security for the trans-Alaska pipeline, oil production facilities and hydroelectric dams.

Stevens, also speaking with Alaska media Friday, said the anti-terrorism fight outlined by President Bush will take years and that the nation must assure itself a solid supply of oil during that time.

ANWR cannot produce oil soon enough to be of help, Stevens said, but if it is a known quantity and available, the country can allow existing fields to be drawn down at a more rapid rate if necessary, he said.

''There is one thing a nation at war needs and that is fuel,'' he said.

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