- The Washington Times - Friday, April 26, 2002

Republicans want to allow television cameras into the upcoming House-Senate negotiations on an energy bill, hoping to pressure Senate Democrats into accepting the White House's proposal on oil drilling in Alaska.

"That's one of the options we're looking at," said Rep. Billy Tauzin, Louisiana Republican who is the likely chairman of a conference committee on energy. "I have a tendency to support that sort of thing."

The Senate version of the energy bill, approved last night, lacks the administration's plan to allow oil exploration in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The House bill, approved last summer, includes the drilling provision.

President Bush made the ANWR proposal the centerpiece of his national energy plan. He has argued that, for national security, the United States must increase domestic oil production and lessen its dependence on foreign oil.

"I think we have a real fair chance at working something out on ANWR, and I'm going to try," Mr. Tauzin said. He added that it is "insane" for the United States to rely so much on foreign sources of oil.

Republican sources said televising the conference committee could add pressure on Democratic opponents of the ANWR measure to include it in the final bill, especially if gasoline prices continue to rise and the talks drag on past Memorial Day.

"I'd be fine with it," said Rep. Joe L. Barton, Texas Republican and a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "I'd be stunned if any senator would oppose it they're all running for president."

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat who voted against the Senate bill, said televising the negotiations couldn't hurt.

"Sunlight is the best disinfectant," Mr. Schumer said.

Televising conference committees is not unprecedented but is usually at the discretion of the committee chairman, said Pete Jeffries, spokesman for Speaker J. Dennis Hastert. Mr. Tauzin, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said he wanted to discuss the idea with Republican leaders and with conferees.

Occasionally House-Senate negotiators will allow television cameras into the room at the start of talks for a few minutes, then kick them out. The public is allowed to attend most negotiations.

The strategy could be politically useful to Republicans, too, by highlighting Democrats' opposition to domestic oil production in an election year with rising gasoline prices.

"We'll want it televised," said Sen. Larry E. Craig of Idaho, chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee. "It'll be a long, hot summer as gas prices continue to climb. [Televising the negotiations] might help public opinion."

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle has said the Senate will not accept any conference bill that includes ANWR, but Mr. Barton said he expects ANWR to be included in the final package.

"I'm reasonably confident that the bill the president signs will have it," Mr. Barton said.

"The higher gasoline prices go, the more open-minded people are about drilling."

"Senate Democrats may have taken ANWR off the table, but we haven't," said Tauzin spokesman Ken Johnson.

As the Senate wrapped up six weeks of debate on its energy bill, several prominent Democrats criticized the final product that was supported by their leadership. Mr. Schumer said the Senate version lacks fuel-efficiency standards, and he said Mr. Daschle's proposals that require increased use of ethanol in cars would raise gasoline prices.

"It'll probably get worse in conference," Mr. Schumer said. "This [Senate bill] is probably the sad high water mark. I'd rather get nothing out of conference."

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