Whether or not Congress will open a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling has been an on-again, off-again issue for a long time. At least for now, it seems more likely to be leaning toward the ''off-again'' side, but that is subject to change.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle has pushed to the back of the line the energy legislation that includes opening ANWR, saying the Senate should now be focused on the priorities of economic recovery efforts, aviation security and passing appropriations bills. That leaves no room for an ANWR debate, he seems to be saying.
And even if the ANWR issue makes it to the Senate floor -- which seems unlikely at this juncture -- it promises to be a difficult fight. Sen. Frank Murkowski believes he has the 51 votes needed to lift the ban on drilling in ANWR. Meanwhile, Democrats are threatening with a rare filibuster.
Daschle's list of the Senate's priorities is a good one. In light of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and subsequent war on terrorism, our leaders should be focusing on ways to bolster our economy, improve our national security and improve public safety. But those goals should not be excuses for holding up a vote on ANWR.
Another immediate priority must be lessening the United States' dependence on foreign oil. That can be accomplished by increasing our domestic production in two ways: broadening production in already established deposit sites, and developing new production sites. Remember that while ANWR certainly is a viable option for new production, it is not the only unexplored possibility. Other domestic-production opportunities should not be ignored or forgotten because of the attention placed on this single location.
As Congress continues debating the best way for the United States to recover from the effects of the terrorist attacks and to protect ourselves against future ones, Senate leadership should not use these tragic circumstances as an excuse for delaying a vote on opening ANWR.
While opening a portion of the refuge may not single-handedly solve all of our energy problems, it should be considered a part of the solution.
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