Flexing their political clout in the new Congress, Democrats have reintroduced a bill to designate the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) as wilderness, permanently barring oil and natural gas drilling in the area.
The legislation was sponsored by Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, an independent who routinely caucuses with Democrats, and 23 Senate Democratic colleagues. It would designate the 1.5 million acres of the coastal plain of ANWR as a wilderness area, reaffirming the original intent of the refuge to provide habitat for Alaska's wildlife, Lieberman said.
But Sen. Mark Begich, the newly elected junior Democratic senator from Alaska, blasted the bill, calling Lieberman's ANWR measure "another misguided attempt at locking up ANWR to appease environmentalists," according to one published account.
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin last Wednesday said she was "dismayed" by the attempt to lock up the coastal plain of ANWR, which she called "the most promising unexplored petroleum province" in North America.
"Let's not forget: Only six months ago oil was selling for nearly $150 per barrel, while Americans were paying $4 a gallon and more for gasoline. And today there is potential for prices to rebound as OPEC [Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries] asserts it market power, and as Russia is disrupting needed natural gas to Europe for the second time in three years," Palin said.
She acknowledged that development of ANWR "isn't a panacea," but she said it should be part of comprehensive energy legislation, along with alternative fuels, fuel efficiency and conservation.
"If we don't move now to enact a comprehensive energy policy that includes domestic oil and gas production -- including ANWR -- we will look back someday and regret that we failed to perceive a critical crossroads in the history of America," Palin said.
For the last two decades all efforts in Congress to open ANWR to drilling have been met with defeat. Environmental and conservation groups have led the charge against drilling in ANWR. The most recent attempt to open up ANWR (a Republican proposal) was defeated in the Senate last May. President-elect Obama has indicated that he is against drilling in the Arctic refuge.
The issue appears to be more important to Congress than it is to producers, who are more focused on gaining access to restricted areas offshore and in the Lower 48 states, particularly in the West.
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