ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Congressional Republicans have offered to designate much of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness in an effort to open the coastal plain of the refuge to oil drilling, but Democrats are not impressed.
Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., presented the idea Wednesday to House and Senate members trying to negotiate a compromise on a national energy bill.
Tauzin, chairman of the negotiating committee, explained that the proposal would turn 10.2 million acres of the refuge into protected wilderness, adding it to the 7.2 million acres of wilderness there already.
The House negotiators voted 10-7 to send the offer to the Senate.
''This will be the single largest designation of wilderness ever made in the history of the Congress, in the history of this country, in one geographic place,'' Tauzin said.
But most of the Democratic members of the negotiating team don't see it that way. The area that would be protected is already managed as a wilderness, so it's hard to see what those who oppose drilling would get out of the bargain.
Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said the deal amounted to cherry-picking the best part of the refuge for development and leaving as wilderness those areas industry doesn't care about anyway.
Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, didn't endorse the wilderness-for-drilling deal but said it moved in the right direction.
Louisiana Sen. John Breaux, one of the few Democratic supporters of ANWR drilling, pleaded for his colleagues to craft a compromise, saying ''an all-or-nothing position on both sides doesn't serve the country well.''
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