- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 6, 2002

Senate debate on President Bush's energy plan, blocked for months by Democrats, will begin next week minus the administration's requested provision to allow oil drilling in the Arctic.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle yesterday said he has the floor votes to block any amendments that would allow drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), and that the measure will proceed slowly. He previously assured Republicans a vote would occur by the Feb. 16 recess.
Sen. Frank Murkowski, Alaska Republican and ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, criticized Mr. Daschle for bypassing Senate tradition and blocking the committee from considering an ANWR amendment.
Mr. Murkowski said the committee was bypassed "because we have the votes to pass ANWR. It's a lousy way to do business. I think it's a travesty of the process."
While Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, may disagree with the contents of Mr. Bush's energy policy, he should not circumvent the process, Mr. Murkowski said.
Republicans have enough floor votes to approve an amendment by majority vote, with support from some Democrats feeling pressured to back the union-endorsed measure.
However, Mr. Daschle is expected to lead a filibuster, which requires 60 votes to overcome, in an attempt to shut down the bill, said Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican.
Reducing the country's dependence on foreign oil has become the top priority for Republican lawmakers and the Bush administration, who say drilling in the ANWR is now a matter of national security and the most important issue to be voted on this year.
Public support continues to grow in favor of drilling in Alaska. A Los Angeles Times nationwide poll released yesterday shows 48 percent favor drilling, 43 percent oppose it. The poll was conducted Jan. 31 to Feb. 3 with a three percent plus or minus margin of error.
"Every survey that comes out the numbers get better and better," Mr. Santorum said. "The more the American people learn about this issue the more supportive they are becoming. They connect the dots and realize the ramifications from a national-security point of view as well as an economic-security point of view."
Meanwhile, environmentalists are calling upon star power to help lobby the Senate against oil drilling.
Americans for Alaska will deliver a letter containing 200 signatures to Capitol Hill on Thursday opposing the measure. Signers include Hollywood stars Barbra Streisand, Michael Douglas, Ted Danson, Don Henley, Carole King, Bill Maher, Mary Tyler Moore, Ed Asner, Brad Pitt, Ed Norton and John Travolta.
In place of new oil exploration, the groups seeks an energy policy that emphasizes conservation and renewable energy.
Mr. Santorum questioned why Hollywood and Beverly Hills were purporting to speak for Alaska and America.
"They are using this as a poster child for environmental causes, the bottom line is the American people study the issues and not the politics behind the issues," Mr. Santorum said.
Said a Senate GOP leadership aide: "What do the actors from 'Fight Club,' 'Friends' and 'Cheers' know about exploring Alaska? Probably nothing more than the scripts they've been handed by the Democratic leadership."

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