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Stage Set for Senate Vote on ANWR Energy Development

The Senate Budget Committee set the stage last Thursday for the full Senate to approve oil and natural gas exploration and development of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR)

By a vote of 12-10, Republican committee members defeated an amendment, which was offered by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), to strip the ANWR provision from the panel's fiscal 2006 budget resolution. The GOP win kept intact a budget instruction to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that authorizes exploration on a footprint of the 1.5 million-acre coastal plain of ANWR.

The resolution also has instructions that would prohibit a Senate filibuster against ANWR drilling, allowing it to be authorized by a simple majority vote (51 votes) in the Senate, reported Congressional Green Sheets in its Friday edition. The Senate is split 55 in favor of ANWR and 45 against, it said.

A favorable vote by the Senate would cap off a long-standing dispute between anti-ANWR forces (environmentalists) and pro-ANWR forces (energy industry and Republican lawmakers) over whether to open the coastal plain of Alaska's Arctic refuge.

Senate Budget Chairman Judd Gregg (R-NH), in his chairman's mark last week, assumes that ANWR will produce $2.5 billion in receipts over five years, reserves $2 billion for comprehensive energy legislation and assumes $4.6 billion in energy tax incentives.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's (R-TN) office last week said that the budget resolution was next on the Senate's list for floor debate, following the passage of the bankruptcy measure. Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM), a senior member of the Budget Committee and chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, indicated that floor consideration of the measure would come this week.

"I hope [the] ANWR vote in committee will be repeated on the Senate floor [this] week," Domenici said. "I will join Chairman Gregg and other senators concerned about rising energy prices to keep ANWR instructions in the resolution...on the Senate floor [this] week. I will vigorously oppose any motion to strike," he noted.

"There are some who say that even though it [ANWR] raises revenue, it shouldn't be in a budget resolution. It should be free-standing," Domenici said last week. And "those who oppose it would like the benefit of a filibuster" to block a floor vote on ANWR. Pro-ANWR senators would have to obtain 60 votes to cut off a filibuster and proceed. The Senate must "do it the old-fashioned way," requiring simply 51 votes to pass it.

Domenici believes the budget resolution is the proper vehicle for ANWR. He noted that Congress passed ANWR as part of the Balanced Budget Act in 1995, but it was vetoed by President Clinton.

"This is a back-door maneuver by drilling proponents to avoid an open debate because they know that drilling in the refuge lacks the support to be approved on its merits," countered Feingold. "For 20 years, there has been bipartisan support to prevent drilling for oil in the Arctic refuge, and we will be fighting as hard as ever this year to continue to protect the Alaskan wilderness."

The House Budget Committee completed mark-up of its fiscal 2006 budget blueprint late Wednesday, but it did not include any budget instructions on ANWR. As a result, for the Senate ANWR provision to become effective, it will have to be approved by a House-Senate conference committee and the conference report adopted by the House and Senate, Congressional Green Sheets reported..

In Columbus, OH, President Bush last Wednesday tried to jump-start congressional action on stalled comprehensive energy legislation that would encourage more energy production in the United States.

"To produce more energy at home, we need to open up new areas to environmentally responsible exploration for oil and natural gas, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge...The Department of Interior estimates that we could recover more than 10 billion barrels of oil from a small corner of ANWR that was reserved specifically for energy development. That's the same amount...we could get from 41 states combined," he said.

"Congress needs to look at the science and look at the facts and send me a bill that includes exploration in ANWR for the sake of our country," the president told a crowd.

Bush also expressed concern about the U.S.'s growing dependence on foreign natural gas. "We're becoming more reliant upon natural gas, and a lot of it is coming from outside our borders. I believe that creates a national security issue and an economic security issue for the United States. And that's why it's important for us to utilize the resources we have here at home in environmentally friendly ways."

The final objective of a sound energy policy is to find more reliable ways to deliver energy to consumers, Bush said. "Transmission lines and pipelines and generating facilities are deteriorating...These strains on the system lead to higher prices and they lead to bottlenecks in delivery."

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