- The Washington Times - Friday, April 19, 2002

The Senate yesterday defeated a measure to allow limited oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
A procedural vote of 46-54 blocked a year-long struggle by Republicans to secure domestic oil supplies, which was heavily opposed by environmental lobbyists who want the refuge, or ANWR, to remain undisturbed by humans. Republicans were unable to get the 60 votes necessary in the Senate to end debate on the proposal and prevent a threatened filibuster by Democrats.
Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican, blamed the loss on "radical environmentalists" and the "defeatist attitude of the Democratic Party."
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott and the White House said they are unwilling to give up the fight and will work to include the ANWR proposal when the House and Senate meet in a conference committee to sort out differences in the energy policy.
"It's not over yet," said Sen. Frank H. Murkowski, Alaska Republican and sponsor of the measure.
Mr. Lott said the vote was disappointing but "this issue will stay alive because we are going to need more domestic energy supplies of all kinds and this legislation does not do enough to promote that."
The measure would have allowed drilling only if the president certifies to Congress that oil exploration and production are in the economic and security interests of the United States.
It limited surface disturbance to 2,000 acres, banned exportation of the oil to other countries except Israel and designated 1.5 million acres of land as wilderness.
The drilling measure was the centerpiece of President Bush's energy policy, and it passed the House last summer.
"At a time when oil and gas prices are rising, the Senate today missed an opportunity to lead America to greater energy independence," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.
"The president will continue to fight for the tens of thousands of jobs that are created by opening ANWR, as well as, more importantly, for the need for America to be able to achieve more energy independence that would result from opening ANWR," Mr. Fleischer said.
Sen. Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico Democrat and chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, opposed the measure, saying energy independence would be better achieved by increasing vehicle fuel efficiency.
However, the measure that would have raised fuel-efficiency standards was defeated during the energy policy debate.
"We had a real opportunity to loosen the grip OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) has on the United States by improving the efficiency of our vehicles. Unfortunately, the Senate stuck with the status quo, which has served only to steadily increase our reliance on imported oil," Mr. Bingaman said.
If Mr. Murkowski continues to offer drilling amendments, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, said he would not be surprised if the energy bill is pulled off the floor and shelved by Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.
Mr. Lieberman, who helped lead a filibuster, said he took no delight in blocking the measure but called it a "short-sighted plan that threatens to do lasting damage to one of our nation's most precious environmental treasures for negligible economic benefit."
Republicans lost the policy battle but say Democrats who voted against the measure may suffer in the upcoming election.
Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, said the vote yesterday will impact the political debate between now and November if voters are faced with severely escalating gas prices or if Middle East oil is cut off.
"I think there will be members who will have to sit on pins and needles for the next six months and hope that something bad doesn't happen," Mr. Santorum said.
"When Americans pay nearly $2 a gallon for gas this summer, they should remember two words: Tom Daschle," said J.C. Watts Jr., Oklahoma Republican and chairman of the House Republican Conference.

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