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Senate Energy Panel Approves ANWR Development in Budget Package

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last Wednesday voted out a budget reconciliation package that moves oil and natural gas development on a 2,000-acre portion of the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) one step closer to reality.

The package, which was approved by 13 to 9 after several Democratic amendments were rejected, directs the secretary of the Interior Department to conduct two lease sales before Oct. 1, 2010. The Senate energy panel's budget measure will be forwarded to the Senate Budget Committee where it will be combined with budget proposals from other Senate committees, and marked up on Oct. 26. The full Senate is expected to take up the budget reconciliation package in early November.

"The time is ripe for ANWR...I say let's get it done," said Senate Energy Chairman Pete V. Domenici (R-NM). ANWR has been a contentious issue in Congress for more than a decade. Lawmakers approved legislation opening up ANWR in 1996, but it was vetoed by then-President Bill Clinton. Many believe the odds of Congress voting to open ANWR are good this year, given that the budget reconciliation package cannot be filibustered in the Senate. ANWR also has the backing of President Bush.

The Senate energy panel approved ANWR on instructions by the Budget Committee to raise $2.4 billion in revenue for fiscal years 2006-2010. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the competitive sale of oil and gas leases in the ANWR coastal plain will raise approximately $2.5 billion over the five-year period.

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