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Capitol Hill Gives ANWR Drilling the Boot -- Again

Plans to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and natural gas drilling went down in flames last Wednesday as Senate drilling proponents were unable to garner sufficient support to head off a threatened Democratic filibuster of a conference report on the $453 billion defense appropriations bill that called for refuge access for producers.

By 56 to 44, proponents of drilling in ANWR fell just shy of the 60 votes needed to override the filibuster, which was led by Senate Democrats and moderate Republicans. Three Republicans, including Sens. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Mike DeWine of Ohio, joined Democrats in supporting the filibuster, which eventually led to the removal of ANWR and other related items, such as emergency funds to help the needy pay their energy bills this winter, from the military spending bill (HR 2863).

Leading the charge against ANWR, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) vowed to use every procedural means available to keep ANWR off-limits to exploration and production. She said permitting ANWR drilling would have amounted to "Christmas packages for oil companies."

The Senate vote was a significant setback for the Bush administration, which has pressed for drilling on the coastal plain of ANWR for years, and for the oil and gas industry. It was a stinging defeat for Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) who, by including ANWR in the defense bill, gambled that the Democrats would not oppose a military spending measure during a time of war.

Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, called the vote a "blow to American consumers." He signaled that he would not give up on ANWR. "I will seek to include an ANWR provision in the budget resolution next spring just as we did this year...ANWR remains one of my top priorities."

The Senate action was a "great disappointment to manufacturers in the U.S.," said John Engler, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, whose members are large consumers of natural gas. "The Senate missed an opportunity to increase America's domestic supply of oil and natural gas for years to come."

ANWR was not the only loser. Also stripped from the defense appropriations bill were provisions authorizing $2 billion in emergency funding for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) for fiscal year 2006 (see related story). "We will lose the LIHEAP dollars" as a result of the Senate's vote last Wednesday, said Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH).

After the dramatics in the Senate, the House last Thursday approved the stripped-down version of the conference report that excluded ANWR, LIHEAP and other initiatives. The bill was headed to the White House for President Bush's signature.

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