- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 17, 2002

The Senate yesterday took up the heated political issue of oil drilling in Arctic Alaska, prompting Democrats to threaten a filibuster as Republicans accused environmental groups of spreading misinformation.
"At this time of our nation's history, we can no longer afford for our national security to be held hostage to the massive misinformation campaign of some of the extreme environmental groups," said Sen. Frank H. Murkowski, Alaska Republican. "We must move on."
The measure offered by Mr. Murkowski would allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) only if the president certifies to Congress that exploration and production are in the economic and security interests of the country.
It limits surface disturbance to 2,000 acres, bans exportation of the oil to other countries except Israel and designates 1.5 million acres of land as wilderness.
"The president has the power given in the Constitution for extra responsibility associated with the decision-making process, and it's clearly appropriate in this time of crisis that the president be given that authority," Mr. Murkowski said.
"Congress has proven it is incapable of dealing with extremely difficult issues that have difficult political consequences. This clearly is one of those issues," Mr. Murkowski said.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said Republicans don't have the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.
"We're going to stop ANWR. We are the brakes to this administration at times when brakes are needed," said Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.
A last-minute deal to attract Democratic votes by pledging funds raised from drilling to pay for health benefits of retired steel workers collapsed late Monday.
Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia said the steel-bailout agreement fell apart after the White House refused to lobby the House to approve the same measure unless Mr. Rockefeller could guarantee 60 votes for the ANWR provision. That deal threatened to further split the Democratic base, pitting labor against environmentalists.
Supporters say reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil should be the country's top priority as the war against terrorism continues in the Middle East.
The recent upheaval in oil-rich Venezuela has also caused prices at the pump to rise in the past week.
"We think it's critical for the national and economic security of this country," Mr. Murkowski said during a Capitol Hill rally attended by Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham and more than 100 union supporters.
Mr. Abraham said union members "understand better than a lot of members of Congress just how important it is for the United States of America's energy security future for us to be able to produce more oil here at home."
President Bush touted the energy plan as his top priority a year ago, and the House passed his energy measure in August. The Democrat-controlled Senate, however, blocked the measure from consideration until last month. Mr. Daschle allowed his version of an energy plan to come up for consideration but it has languished on the Senate floor since March 5.
An Associated Press poll taken Jan. 25-28 showed 53 percent oppose drilling in the refuge and 33 percent support the idea. Additionally, 13 percent had no opinion. The poll of 1,033 had an error margin of 3 percentage points.
A poll by Public Opinion Strategies Feb. 11-13, however, showed 2-to-1 in favor of drilling 62 percent favored drilling, 31 percent opposed it.

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