- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The Energy secretary designate said he would be an advocate for oil and natural-gas drilling exploration in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), ensuring that that divisive partisan issue again will be a major obstacle to passing a comprehensive energy policy this year.

Samuel W. Bodman said ANWR is an important step toward balancing the nation’s energy dependence between foreign and domestic sources. “I expect to be an advocate for [ANWR drilling] … and I would be open to that exploration,” he said, adding there is no reasonable argument not to open the area up, given the great rewards that could be gleaned with minimal risk to the environment and the reserve on the whole.

“ANWR, in its totality, is about the size of South Carolina, and the area where we believe the hydrocarbons are located is about the size of Delaware, not to mention that the exploration site would be no larger than about the size of [Boston’s] Logan International Airport,” Mr. Bodman said.

He stressed that the exploration must be allowed to occur, at the very least, and not be hampered by partisan battles. And he quickly found an ally in Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican, who also wants help to begin construction of a natural-gas pipeline from Alaska to Chicago.

“It is the largest constructions project of its kind, and we will need your help to educate the public on how many jobs this can create and how it can alleviate natural-gas prices,” Mrs. Murkowski said.

The ANWR drilling component was pulled off the table during House and Senate negotiations last year to try to ease negotiations for Congress’ development of a 25-year energy plan, only to have it break down over civil liability protection for fuel additive producers that have polluted underground water sources.

The Bush administration is not expected to give up on ANWR drilling this year, with a new majority in the Senate, and a stronger executive advocate in Mr. Bodman, said Republican Senate staffers.

A chemical engineer by education and investment banker by trade, the former deputy secretary of the Commerce and Treasury departments is expected to face no opposition on his way to running the Energy Department.

Three Democrats on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee endorsed Mr. Bodman at a hearing yesterday, including their ranking member, Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico.

Most of the questions Mr. Bodman fielded from senators were parochial, ranging from increasing renewable energy production in Colorado from Sen. Ken Salazar, Colorado Democrat, to stopping privatization plans for the Bonneville Power Administration in Oregon from Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat.

Energy panel Chairman Sen. Pete V. Domenici, New Mexico Republican, was concerned particularly about protecting the pensions and health care plans of scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory, awaiting the outcome of a management bidding process for the facility, the first new leadership possibility for the lab in 40 years.

Not one senator raised a concern about Mr. Bodman’s qualifications, but several were concerned about the slow process to begin storing nuclear waste at the Yucca Mountain disposal facility in Nevada.

“My chief concern is that the administration failed to ask for sufficient funding last year, and I want to make sure that does not happen again,” Mr. Bingaman said.

Mr. Bodman said he expects to deal with the issue quickly, but pending congressional or executive action to set the radiation yield level for the facility.

Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican, who lived through the creation of the Rock Flats disposal facility in his state, said the real problem with the Yucca project is not the waste disposal.

“The problem is once you remove the politics from it, build it and start using it, [Yucca mountain] is already full, so we need to look ahead of our waste to the next facility,” he said.

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