- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 18, 2001

The Bush administration said yesterday that as a result of last week's terrorist attacks and to decrease America's dependence on foreign oil, it will renew its aggressive pursuit of the right to drill in Alaska's Arctic.

"We are redoubling our commitment to implement a long-term energy strategy that both protects our environment and increases our energy security with increased domestic energy supplies," said Mark Pfeifle, Interior Department spokesman.

In addition to energy production in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, Mr. Pfeifle said the overall plan is to increase energy resources within the U.S. borders "in an environmentally sensitive way."

Additionally, the Bush administration wants to invest in conservation programs, to diversify energy sources and to increase research and development of renewable energy sources and alternative fuels.

"We look forward to continuing to build a bipartisan coalition to pass the president's objectives in the future in the Senate," Mr. Pfeifle said.

The House passed legislation last month clearing the way for limited drilling in the refuge, but the energy package is stalled in the Senate where senior aides say recent events have brought the issue to the forefront.

"We do have a change in the landscape that was caused by this tragedy, and it may be more viable to pass legislation that allows for the exploration of Alaska oil so that we can rely on ourselves instead of the Middle East," said one leadership aide.

However, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, has threatened to filibuster the energy bill. His spokeswoman said yesterday that last week's events have not changed his position. Sen. John F. Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, has also threatened to block the legislation. His spokesman could not be reached for comment.

"I think this has got to change everything. These folks have got to wake up," said a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee aide.

The U.S. imports 60 percent of its oil, a quarter of which comes from the Middle East, the aide said.

Many environmental groups who have criticized President Bush's efforts to reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil have lowered their profile since the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The Sierra Club issued a memo the day following the attack saying they will "cease bashing President Bush."

Most environmental groups are declining to discuss how the energy debate will take shape, among them the Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council.

Adam Kolton at the Alaska Wilderness League said the country faces a host of policy issues that should be re-examined, but that drilling in ANWR should be excluded.

"This is not the time to be engaging in a partisan political battle. This is a time for the country to come together," Mr. Kolton said. "It would be unfortunate for anyone to take advantage of this tragedy to push a partisan, self-serving agenda."

Still, analysts say that Congress must take up the challenge of protecting America's energy supply in the coming weeks and open the arctic to drilling.

"I would hope that opponents would take a second look at this. The tragic events of last week show our vulnerability to other countries," said Charlie Coon, of the Heritage Foundation.

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