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Extracting ANWR from Debate May Help Pass Energy Bill, Ex-Senator Says

Extracting ANWR from Debate May Help Pass Energy Bill, Ex-Senator Says

Separating the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) issue from the ongoing energy bill debate in Congress significantly increases the chances that a comprehensive energy bill will be passed by the new Congress, former Republican U.S Senator and 9/11 Commission member Slade Gorton told an energy industry conference Thursday in Seattle.

A combination of the November election results in increasing the Republican Party majorities in Congress and the segmenting out of two other troublesome issues should help give it a better than 50% chance that a comprehensive energy bill finally will pass, said Gorton, speaking at the Law Seminar International's "Buying and Selling Electric Power in the West" conference.

Ironically, any of the major individual parts of the pending energy bills could be passed by themselves, but the Senate Energy Committee chairman Pete Domenici (R-NM) has made it clear he wants a comprehensive bill or nothing, Gorton said.

Gorton said that Domenici, who was criticized by his Democratic colleagues for allegedly shutting them out of the debate in the conference committee on the energy bill last year, will bring Democrats into the process with the new Congress much earlier. But whether that will allow the controversial renewable energy mandates and higher motor vehicle fuel efficiency standard issues to be resolved amicably is unclear, he said.

Removing the ANWR issue relates to an arcane Congressional process, according to Gorton, in which annual budget resolutions are passed by the Senate. This allows for the $2 billion in costs associated with ANWR to be dealt with in a so-called "reconciliation bill" that Congress will pass to square the budget resolution with fiscal realities.

Similarly, Gorton does not think an energy bill will provide any more incentives for the building of an Alaska natural gas pipeline, although he thinks ultimately it will get built, only separate from the ongoing energy debate.

"It is not likely additional provisions to encourage a gas pipeline will be passed as part of an energy bill in this Congress," Gorton said. "It is still a tremendously expensive project. Whether or not the loan guarantees and other provisions are sufficient to get construction started is still an open question.

"I think ultimately, we will get the pipeline, but if we get it, we're going to have to get it under the laws that were passed last year."

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