ANWR vote disappoints peninsula lawmakers

Posted: Sunday, December 25, 2005

State lawmakers from the Kenai Peninsula, all Republicans, expressed their ire and disappointment Thursday over the latest setback in the decades-long effort to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens’ decision to attach the controversial ANWR measure to a broadly supported military spending bill drew sharp criticism not only from Democrats, but also some Republicans. An attempt to break a Democrat-led filibuster failed Wednesday by a 56-44 vote, four votes short of the 60 needed. The ANWR measure was officially dead by the end of the day.

“It was really a disappointment,” Alaska Senate Majority Leader Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, said Thursday. “I had hoped this was the year for it.”

He praised Sen. Ted Stevens (no relation), who he said had been “doing a heroic job” trying to get ANWR legislation passed in Congress. Taking a longer view, Gary Stevens said the oil will always be there and inevitably ANWR will open, considering the growing energy needs of the country.

“When it gets cold enough and dark enough, they’ll want our oil,” he said.

“I say let the (people) freeze in the dark,” Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, said. “These people don’t understand where oil comes from.”

It was hypocritical in the extreme, Wagoner argued, for Washington lawmakers to have voted against opening ANWR where an estimated 10 billion barrels of crude lies waiting when America’s young people were “getting shot at and sometimes killed” over the real issue — oil.

“You can talk all you want about terrorism, but the real reason we’re in the Middle East is oil,” he said.

Arguments that tapping ANWR would create environmental havoc are simply false, he said, adding that the experiences at Prudhoe Bay and Kuparak were proof.

Many U.S. Senate and House opponents of ANWR are serving state constituencies that see the refuge as a national treasure and want it left off limits. Thus, attaching the politically charged oil exploration measure to the Defense Appropriations bill was bound to raise hackles.

“There was some concern about the method of getting there,” Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, acknowledged. “But we appreciate the efforts of Sen. Stevens. Hopefully, people will eventually look at the merits of opening ANWR and we will go forward.”

The Alaska Legislature has passed numerous resolutions in support of ANWR and will continue to do so, he said.

Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, who serves a district heavily dependent on the presence of the oil and gas industry, said he was frustrated.

“I’m disappointed — again. But I’ve gotten to where I don’t ever have my hopes up too high,” he said.

Even more frustrating, he said, was watching the media coverage and listening to Senate Democrats lament Ted Stevens’ use of the defense bill, and complaining that he was somehow bending Senate legislative rules.

“In reality, the rules are bent every day,” Chenault said.

Sure, attaching ANWR to the defense bill caused an uproar. But why, if the rules are so important, asked Chenault, didn’t other attachments to the bill also generate outrage, such as the $29 billion for Hurricane Katrina relief or a $2 billion low-income fuel measure?

“That’s not to say they weren’t important. They were. But no one said a word about those other two that were attached,” Chenault commented.

When Congress reconvenes after the Christmas break, ANWR will no doubt find its way onto other legislation. But its narrow failure this time is helping to focus attention on a broader issue: energy independence.

Chenault said the nation needed to look at all its options for reaching an energy position that makes the country less dependent on overseas oil suppliers. One of them is exploring and developing alternative energy sources and the technologies to use them.

“The only thing holding us back is the cost,” he said. “If you could go out and buy a hybrid car, for instance, at a reasonable cost close to what you can buy a regular vehicle for today, and have it be reliable, you’d see more of that.”

Chenault said those who want to see that happen should keep pushing.

Seaton agreed that the country needs to pursue alternative energy sources and conservation measures as it move toward energy independence, but while doing so, it also needs to use its existing supplies of oil and natural gas.

“One is not exclusive of the other,” he said. “You can’t drill your way out of this hole, but you also can’t just conserve your way out, either.”

There have been other arguments that Alaska might be better off in the long run leaving ANWR oil in the ground for 50 or 100 years, banking that it would be so much more valuable down the road. That approach is food for thought, at least, Gary Stevens acknowledged.

“Who is to say our generation is the one to use all the North Slope and ANWR oil,” Stevens said. “Maybe we should leave some for future generations as well.”

For his part, Wagoner said he, like many others, likes his SUV, and he seriously doubts Americans are willing to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve energy self-sufficiency.

“Not in my lifetime. Not in my grandson’s,” he said.

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