- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 23, 2001

The ongoing war in Afghanistan has increased the urgency for Congress to pass an energy bill that includes drilling in Alaska to reduce dependency on foreign oil, Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton said yesterday.
"The president has said very clearly this is a priority," Mrs. Norton told editors and reporters at a luncheon at The Washington Times.
"This situation has made it more urgent, and we need to begin moving the process," Mrs. Norton said.
Mrs. Norton and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham have been given the task by President Bush to get moving legislation held up in the Senate that would allow drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
Mrs. Norton said the administration has the votes necessary to pass the measure out of committee but the bill was yanked from consideration by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.
A meeting between the two Cabinet secretaries and Mr. Daschle to discuss the legislation was canceled after a letter containing anthrax contaminated Mr. Daschle's office, and 28 staffers and Capitol police officers tested positive for exposure to the bacteria.
"We have always said that national security is part of the reason we need to get the energy program in place, and we certainly have not backed away from that position now that September 11 has occurred," Mrs. Norton said.
Nearly 60 percent of America's oil comes from overseas, and 700,000 barrels of oil per day are imported from Iraq at an annual cost of $4 billion.
Drilling supporters say the amount of oil drilled from ANWR could replace the supply purchased from Iraq.
Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, is threatening to filibuster the energy bill. He said Republicans are using "strong-arm" tactics to allow drilling that would not decrease dependence on foreign oil.
"I find it irresponsible and even unpatriotic to press an issue that will not make a difference during our war on terrorism," Mr. Kerry told Environment and Energy Daily last week.
Mrs. Norton said there is a "huge amount" of oil located in the 19 million-acre refuge. However, only 1.5 million acres would be explored for oil and the House bill passed in August limits surface disruption caused by drilling to 2,000 acres.
Mrs. Norton said the major difference between this administration and the Clinton administration is how states and local interests are treated "fundamentally different."
"The states were viewed as just another interest group [under the Clinton administration]," Mrs. Norton said.
The Interior Department's new motto of "communication, consultation and cooperation all in the service of conservation" means that decisions affecting people's lives and property will not be made unilaterally, Mrs. Norton said.
While reasonable enforcement of the Endangered Species Act is her top priority, Mrs. Norton acknowledged it will be a difficult accomplishment.
Confusion about whether the Endangered Species Act allowed water to be taken from a river caused a several-hour delay of a water drop on a July 10 wildfire that killed four firefighters in the state of Washington. The amount to be dropped was relatively small, however, and did not lead to the deaths, authorities said.
Still, Mrs. Norton said that concern for endangered species must not come at the expense of providing for the safety of firefighters.
"We have tried to make it clear the Endangered Species Act should not be an obstacle to saving people's lives. The safety of firefighters should come first," she said.
"It's always hard to dictate common sense," she added.
She also reported that the National Park Service is in "reasonably good shape," but there remains a split in public opinion about whether to use and enjoy parks, or preserve them by blocking access.

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