- The Washington Times - Monday, February 25, 2002

The White House is redoubling its efforts to enact a national energy policy and is close to calling for an up-or-down Senate vote on drilling in Alaska, senior administration officials said.
On Thursday, President Bush will meet with union leaders who are intensely lobbying Senate Democrats to abandon their opposition to oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR).
A spokesman for the largest of those unions, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said the push is paying off. More than half the Senate now supports drilling in ANWR, and proponents said they are closing in on the 60 votes needed to stop a possible filibuster.
"We do believe that there is a growing chorus of support for it," said White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett. "We stand a good chance."
Part of the reason is the war against terrorism, which has reminded Americans of their growing dependence on foreign oil. Polls show growing public support for drilling in ANWR as a way to lessen that dependence.
"There's no question the president has seen it and heard it when he's out traveling," Mr. Bartlett said. "When he mentions that, it really strikes a chord even more so, post 9-11."
Capitalizing on that shifting public opinion, labor leaders have mounted an agressive campaign to portray the administration's energy package as a jobs bill. Officials from the Teamsters will join the carpenters, laborers and seafarers unions to press their case Wednesday in a meeting with the Senate Democratic caucus.
"We are within striking distance of achieving the 60 votes, and I think we'll get there," said Jerry Hood, energy adviser to Teamsters President James P. Hoffa.
Although unions traditionally support Democrats, many have broken with their party by downplaying the environmental impact of drilling in ANWR. They have run ad campaigns in a dozen states and will resume meetings with individual Democratic senators and their staffs today as the Senate returns from a weeklong recess.
"Organized labor has reframed the debate from caribou to jobs," said Mr. Hood, who accompanied the president to Alaska earlier this month. "This piece of legislation, among other things, is one heck of a jobs bill.
"It would put hundreds and hundreds of thousands of Americans back to work in good-paying jobs that provide health care and pensions," he added.
The Senate's failure to pass an economic stimulus bill has put more pressure on Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, to pass an energy bill.
The recession and rising unemployment have added urgency to the debate.
Sensitive to these political crosswinds, Senate Democrats have drafted their own version of an energy bill. But it excludes drilling in ANWR, which the Teamsters say would create 735,000 jobs.
A senior administration official said the jobs argument has significantly eroded Democratic opposition to drilling.
"On an issue like this, when you know your working guys and your local union guys are supporting it, that matters," the official said. "These are folks on the ground in your district who are union workers."
Meanwhile, the war against terrorism has prompted drilling advocates to talk of "energy security" as tantamount to national security.
"It has caused those in the United States Senate, who may have previously opposed drilling in the coastal plain of ANWR, to rethink their position," Mr. Hood said. "Certainly those who are undecided are thinking a lot harder about it than they would have prior to the events of September 11th."
Mr. Bush used his weekly radio address Saturday to link his energy plan with both the war on terrorism and the domestic economy.
"Passing my comprehensive energy plan is not just important for energy security, it is also vital to our economic security," the president said. "Economic growth requires reliable and affordable energy, and labor organizations support my plan because they know my energy plan means thousands of new jobs across America."
With the House having passed his energy package months ago, Mr. Bush is growing more determined to prod the Senate into doing the same.
"He's definitely stepping up his efforts to urge Senate action," Mr. Bartlett said. "There is a pretty broad consensus on a lot of the package. The flashpoint is ANWR."
One of those pieces will be highlighted today when the president touts cars that run on alternative fuel sources.
By parking these futuristic vehicles in the White House driveway, administration officials hope to emphasize that while Mr. Bush wants more energy supplies, he also favors conservation.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide