Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

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Senate blocks oil drilling in Alaskan wildlife refuge

By H. Josef Hebert

Associated Press

Washington (AP) – The long fight over whether to drill for oil
in an Alaska wildlife refuge is nowhere near an end.

But attempts to open the refuge to oil development – one of
President Bush’s top energy priorities – received another setback
last week as the Senate refused to include the drilling measure in
a must-pass defense spending bill.

It was a huge victory for environmentalists and Senate Democrats
who argued that drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
would jeopardize the wild ecosystem that characterizes the refuge’s
coastal plain where polar bears, caribou, migratory birds and other
wildlife thrive.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who has fought unsuccessfully for a
quarter-century to open the plain to oil drilling, had hoped to
garner enough votes to overcome a threatened filibuster by
attaching the measure to the defense bill that included tens of
billions of dollars for troops in Iraq and for victims of Hurricane
Katrina.

Instead, Stevens found himself a few votes shy of getting his
wish.

‘This has been the saddest day of my life,’ Stevens said.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., an ardent defender of the refuge
who led anti-drilling forces during the Senate debate, called
Stevens’ tactic ‘legislative blackmail’ and ‘trickery’ that united
Democrats on the issue.

Republican leaders fell three votes short of the 60 votes needed
to break the filibuster threat and advance the defense spending
bill to a final vote, forcing GOP leaders to temporarily withdraw
the bill and take out the drilling provision. The official vote was
56-44, four short, because Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., a
supporter of drilling, voted with those opposing it so he would
have the right to ask the Senate to reconsider the issue in a
second vote later.

Hours later, the Senate stripped the Alaska drilling language
from the defense legislation, then passed the bill and sent it to
the House, which was scheduled to reconvene Thursday afternoon. The
House earlier had passed the defense spending bill with the Alaska
drilling provision in it.

Before the vote, Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic leader,
charged that the military was ‘being held hostage by this issue,
Arctic drilling.’

But Stevens, 82, the Senate’s most senior member known for his
sometimes cantankerous nature and fiery temper, had no
apologies.

‘Every time this subject comes up … the minority has
filibustered,’ Stevens complained, reminding colleagues of his
25-year campaign to get Congress to allow development of an
estimated 10 billion barrels of oil beneath ANWR’s tundra.

After the vote, Democrats and environmentalists celebrated,
knowing they had tangled with one of the Senate’s toughest members
and won.

‘It took a lot of guts for a lot of people to stand up,’ Sen.
Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said after the vote. He said he expects the
senators who opposed drilling – all but four Democrats as well as
GOP Sens. Mike DeWine of Ohio and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island –
not to yield to further pressures and change their vote later.

For no one believes the issue, which has galvanized
environmentalists determined to protect the refuge from
development, is going away.

‘I expect to see it again next year,’ said Sen. John Kerry,
D-Mass., a longtime drilling opponent.

‘Yes, it’ll be back,’ Lieberman agreed.

The question of whether to allow oil companies to explore and
tap the refuge’s oil has been one of the most contentious
environmental fights for decades.

While drilling proposals have been passed as part of broad
energy legislation in the House, each time it was blocked by the
Senate, where Democrats threatened a filibuster.

Congress did approve ANWR drilling in 1995 as part of a budget
package that was immune from Senate filibuster, but President
Clinton vetoed it.

This year Republican leaders tacked an ANWR provision onto a
deficit reduction package, only to see the language killed in the
House. In response, Stevens, chairman of the Appropriations
subcommittee handling defense spending, turned to the defense bill,
hoping it would have enough support to avert a successful
filibuster threat over the Alaska refuge.

Those who advocate drilling said the oil – an estimated 1
million barrels a day during peak production – is needed for
national security to reduce the country’s dependence on imports.
Drilling opponents say ANWR’s oil would take years to develop and
do little to curtail imports.

But drilling opponents argued that ANWR’s oil should not be
exploited because of the coastal plain’s fragile ecosystem and
wildlife. While the region looks bleak during its long winters, and
oil can be seen seeping from some of its rock formations, the
coastal strip also is the calving ground for caribou and home to
polar bears, musk oxen, and the annual influx of millions of
migratory birds.

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