Congress late Thursday passed a $2.6 trillion budget for fiscal 2006 that would, among other things, clear the way for oil and natural gas drilling on the coastal plain of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
After negotiators reached an agreement earlier Thursday, the House passed the budget resolution by a vote of 228-196, which was followed by a Senate vote of 52 to 47. The negotiated budget accord was the latest step forward in the more than decade-long fight to open the 2,000-acre portion of the Arctic refuge to exploration and production.
The budget for fiscal 2006 assumes that ANWR will produce $2.4 billion in savings over five years. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over energy legislation, is expected to report back legislative language that authorizes exploration in the Arctic refuge.
The budget resolution cannot be filibustered under Senate rules, meaning that pro-ANWR Senate forces won't have to muster 60 votes to overcome a filibuster by anti-ANWR lawmakers. Instead, the measure will require only a simple majority vote (51) to pass.
In March, the Senate narrowly voted in favor of putting ANWR in its fiscal 2006 budget resolution (see NGI, March 21). The House budget measure did not include ANWR, but it was part of the energy bill that the House passed in late April (see NGI, April 25).
ANWR still has more hurdles to scale. Even with the passage of the budget resolution last week, lawmakers will have to vote later in the year on an omnibus reconciliation package before ANWR can become a reality.
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