- The Washington Times - Monday, March 17, 2003

Supporters of opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling have just a couple more days to bring one or two wavering senators to their side.
Last week, the Senate Budget Committee approved an amendment that would allow oil exploration in the refuge, known as ANWR (often spoken "Anwar"), at the northeastern tip of Alaska. It is tacked to the 2004 budget resolution scheduled for a vote on Senate floor Wednesday the measure can avoid a filibuster, which would take 60 votes to defeat.
Republican sources say they're confident 48 senators will vote to drill in ANWR, and a 49th is leaning their way. That leaves just one to net the 50 votes allowing Vice President Richard B. Cheney to break the tie in favor of drilling.
Last year, a Senate bill to allow drilling in ANWR was brought to the floor as a regular bill, but fell six votes short of the 60 needed to end a filibuster. The threat of war in Iraq and the corresponding spike in oil prices don't appear to have affected the vote count much this year.
For the last couple of weeks, Alaska's pro-drilling Senate delegation powerful Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens and freshman Lisa Murkowski, both Republicans, have been working to squeeze out the votes to realize a victory Republicans have long coveted.
"We're working very hard to get as many votes for ANWR as possible," said Kristin Pugh, spokesman for Miss Murkowski. "It's very close."
The lobbying for that last vote has centered on four senators: Democrats Blanche L. Lincoln and Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Republicans Gordon Smith of Oregon and Norm Coleman of Minnesota.
Drew Goesl, spokesman for Mrs. Lincoln, said that in the last two weeks she met with both of Alaska's senators, but her mind was not changed.
"Senator Lincoln is opposed to drilling," Mr. Goesl said. "She remains firm in her opposition and her opposition has never wavered. She voted against it before, and she intends to do so again."
Mr. Smith visited ANWR in 1998, saying: "I don't think it's appropriate to make a decision until you've been there to see it. I think there are new types of drilling and technologies that may yet unlock this resource without harming our environment."
The senator's spokesman, Chris Matthews, said he has made his decision: Don't drill now.
"Right now he agrees that we shouldn't drill in ANWR," Mr. Matthews said.
Mr. Pryor, who opposed drilling in ANWR during his campaign, has left Republicans with the impression that he can be convinced otherwise. To that end, he's been presented with reams of evidence by Mr. Stevens that oil exploration is wanted by the local population, is environmentally sound and will help the United States become more energy independent.
"The senator is being lobbied on both sides," said Rodell Mollineau, spokesman for Mr. Pryor. "During the campaign, he opposed drilling in ANWR and at this time he is not inclined to vote for drilling."
Mr. Coleman, elected to the Senate in November, opposed oil exploration in ANWR during his campaign. But pro-drilling senators see hope in his refusal last month to join eight other Republicans as signatories to a letter in opposition to drilling.
Tom Mason, chief of staff for Mr. Coleman, said the senator has been "hearing it from both sides" the last couple of weeks, but isn't inclined to reverse his campaign position.
"He was against it primarily because he thinks the real debate should be for renewable sources of energy," Mr. Mason said. "He would say that on almost any issue a good, responsible legislator will never say never, but he hasn't seen anything that would make him change his mind."
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, who calls this "the latest and most serious threat to the magnificent" ANWR, said the anti-drilling side has been applying pressure too.
"Those are the critical ones," Mr. Lieberman said, referring to the targeted senators, adding that his side also is not sure how those senators will vote. "We're continuing to be in discussions with them."

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