- The Washington Times - Monday, April 23, 2001

A White House energy task force will not call for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in a report to be released next month, but that does not mean its turning its back on the proposal.
"As far as our report goes, we didnt specifically say you must drill in ANWR. We didnt recommend that to the president," Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman said of the panel chaired by Vice President Richard B. Cheney, which is trying to find ways to ease U.S. energy shortages.
But she later told Reuters her remarks on CBS "Face the Nation" were not meant to suggest the Bush administration was taking the refuge off the table for drilling. In fact, the task force report will not make specific recommendations about where to drill, she said.
But Mrs. Whitman sees problems ahead for the ANWR drilling plan. "It has to go through the Congress in order to happen, and its going to be very difficult," she said on NBCs "Meet the Press."
On television news talk shows yesterday, there was substantial confusion as to whether President Bush still supports drilling in the Alaskan wildlife refuge.
The confusion was prompted by a report in this weeks issue of Time magazine, which hits newsstands today. According to the report, senior presidential adviser Karl Rove told a Republican consultant last week that Mr. Bush will not be pushing for the drilling, since he already has enough big battles with Congress.
Mrs. Whitman said she did not know if such a decision had been made.
But Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton, who also appeared on several talk shows, said she spoke with Mr. Rove yesterday morning and was assured the White House will continue to press for oil drilling in the Alaskan refuge.
"Hes mystified as to where that information came from," Mrs. Norton said on CNNs "Late Edition."
She said Mr. Rove told her the president "still believes that is something that we should push forward with."
Asked to clarify the White Houses position, presidential spokeswoman Claire Buchan said the Time report about Mr. Roves purported comments was inaccurate.
"The administration continues to support using a small portion of ANWR as part of a diversified program to provide other sources of energy," she said.
Asked on CNN if there are the votes in Congress for such an undertaking, Mrs. Norton said: "We have to convince Congress we can do this in an environmentally responsible way. To a large extent, people are not aware of the new technology for drilling" that is much less damaging to the environment.
Most Democrats and eight Republicans oppose drilling in the wildlife refuge, dimming prospects for passage in the evenly divided Senate.
Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, interviewed on ABCs "This Week," vowed to block or filibuster any effort to drill in the Alaska refuge. "I think its bad energy policy and bad environmental policy," he said.
But Mrs. Norton, also interviewed on "This Week," said, "When we talk about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, thats an area that has been for decades designated as a place where we might want to have oil production at some point."
Drilling in ANWR was one of three controversial issues Mrs. Norton addressed in talk show appearances yesterday, which was the 31st anniversary of Earth Day. Others included her plan for oil and gas drilling 100 miles off the Florida coast and the possibility of drilling in some of the national monuments created by President Clinton before he left office.
Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has raised environmental objections to the administrations proposal to auction leases on 6 million fossil-fuel-rich acres off Floridas Gulf of Mexico coast.
On ABC, Mrs. Norton said the proposal has "been on the table" for quite some time and has been approved by Congress. But Sen. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat, asked about it on "Late Edition," said Congress has had a moratorium against oil drilling off the Florida coast for the past 20 years.
As for drilling in newly created national monuments, Mrs. Norton said its allowed under many of the 11th-hour executive orders Mr. Clinton issued when he established the monuments.
"I think we all want to see as much preservation as we can. We also need to recognize that we have to have a balance to keep jobs available for people, to keep supplies of heat for our homes. And so those are things we also need to try to balance as well as possible," she said.
While its doubtful Mrs. Norton converted many environmentalists with her comments, she and other Cabinet members who made the rounds of talk shows yesterday took pains to portray Mr. Bush as a president committed to a healthy environment.
It was an organized effort to counter the image problems that have plagued the administration following he presidents decisions to roll back stricter standards of air pollutants and levels of arsenic in drinking water.
"The president has taken a lot of unfair hits on the environment," Mrs. Whitman said on NBC.
Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans, who appeared on "Fox News Sunday," predicted Mr. Bush will have a legacy of being "pro-environment."
In another development, Mrs. Whitman told "Meet the Press" that the highly contagious, "easily transportable" foot-and-mouth disease — also known as hoof-and-mouth disease — could strike in the United States, even though federal agencies are doing "everything we can to keep it from coming into this country."
"There is a chance, and theres a real concern, and thats why weve been so proactive," she said. The United States has been free of the disease since 1929.

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