- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Beyond the heap of legislation that passed in the House and was stalled in the Senate (welfare reform, the 2003 budget resolution, prescription-drug coverage for seniors, homeland security, pension regulation, et al.), several bills have either passed both bodies, worked their way to conference or emerged from conference and await final action in each body.
Long overdue bankruptcy-overhaul legislation has once again emerged from conference committee, as it had in 1998 and 2000. In recent years, strong bipartisan support has understandably developed for a reform provision that would require debtors to pass a means test before all of their debts are discharged following asset liquidation.
The need for reform is clear. For the first time, bankruptcy filings have recently surpassed the 1.5 million mark for a 12-month period. Many of the more than 1 million debtors who will have all of their debts discharged are in a position to repay a portion of their debts if they were rescheduled. One consequence of today's widespread abuse of current bankruptcy laws is the fact that the average borrower pays an estimated $500 per year in extra charges to compensate lenders for losses incurred because of bankruptcy.
Unfortunately, Sen. Charles Schumer, New York Democrat, succeeded in attaching to the bankruptcy-reform legislation an extraneous provision that would severely penalize nonviolent, peaceful abortion protesters. It is a poison pill that many Republican conservatives in the House refuse to swallow. Even Rep. Henry Hyde, who struck the deal with Mr. Schumer in July, has said he's "on their side," referring to his outraged Republican colleagues. Regrettably, badly needed reform may fall by the wayside.
Patients-rights bills passed the Senate and the House during the summer of 2001. The Senate version, which former millionaire-trial-lawyer John Edwards of North Carolina helped to shepherd through, offers far more protection for ambulance chasers than long-term, health-care affordability for patients. Short of major revisions and compromises, this abomination deserves to die.
With quite different energy bills arriving in conference, the likelihood that compromise will be reached declines with the passing of each day. Among the most contentious issues is the House bill's provision for oil drilling in the federal Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska.
Much ink has been expended debating this issue. And just as much ink was spent in the debate about drilling at Prudhoe Bay on Alaska's North Slope, where oil was discovered in the late 1960s before the first oil crisis. So, it may be instructive to examine the lessons of Prudhoe Bay.
Initially estimated at 9.6 billion barrels, the Prudhoe Bay discovery was nearly twice the size of any previous oil find in North America. Just as today, environmental groups including the Wilderness Society, Friends of the Earth and the Environmental Defense Fund opposed exploiting the discovery. In fact, those three groups filed suit against the trans-Alaska oil pipeline. As it happened, 10 billion barrels have already been recovered from the Prudhoe area, another 3 billion remain to be produced at Prudhoe Bay, and nearby state lands offer an additional 7 billion barrels, above and beyond the 10.4 billion barrels that are estimated to be recoverable at ANWR. (As at Prudhoe Bay and nearby lands, ANWR may eventually provide much more oil than its current estimate.)
Oil production at Prudhoe Bay started in 1977, no thanks to the same environmental groups and their mostly Democratic congressional allies, who today oppose ANWR. Alaskan oil production reached its peak of 2 million barrels per day (bpd) in 1988, or 25 percent of total U.S. oil output. Alaskan output has since declined by 50 percent to 1 million bpd, while U.S. output has declined by 2.3 million bpd.
In 1988, while producing 2 million bpd in Alaska, the United States imported 7.4 million bpd of petroleum, including 1.8 million bpd from Arab OPEC nations and 3.5 million from OPEC in total. Last year, with Alaskan output cut in half compared to 1988, U.S. petroleum imports averaged 11.9 million bpd, including 3 million bpd from Arab OPEC nations, 5.5 million bpd from OPEC in total and 800,000 bpd from Iraq, in particular. While nobody argues that ANWR would eliminate America's dependence on imported petroleum, it would constitute an important step in the right direction, just as the development of Prudhoe Bay's reserves did 25 years ago. This year, however, to the detriment of long-term U.S. national security, the environmental lobby and its Democratic congressional allies appear poised to declare victory.

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