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Senate Panel Vote to Keep ANWR in Budget Resolution Draws Wrath of Dems, GOP

The Senate Budget Committee's approval last Thursday of a provision authorizing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) as part of the budget resolution for fiscal year 2007 has drawn the wrath of Democrats and Republicans alike. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have threatened to vote against the budget package if ANWR remains.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), the Democrats vowed that they would do everything they could to strike ANWR from the budget reconciliation package when it reaches the Senate floor. "We stopped this shortsighted proposal last year, and I'll fight for the same result this year," said Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA).

During markup of the budget resolution, the Democratic members of the Senate Budget panel tried but failed to remove budget instructions for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to write reconciliation language to open the coastal plain of Alaska's ANWR to leasing -- a move that is projected to reduce federal budget authority and outlays by $3 billion between fiscal years 2007 and 2011.

"The Senate remains deeply divided over this issue, and the Budget Committee should not include ANWR in its budget assumptions this year," said Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, the ranking Democrat on the Senate energy panel. "Senate Democrats are acutely aware of the nation's energy needs... But most of us do not believe that oil and gas activities can be done in an environmentally responsible manner in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge."

Five Republicans opposed to ANWR, led by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), circulated a letter last week also vowing to vote against the overall budget resolution if the provision is not removed, according a published report in Congressional Quarterly's Green Sheets. They contend that "environmental and energy policy decisions of this magnitude" have no place in the budget bill.

On the House side, Republicans are equally as dissatisfied. A number of GOP members sent a letter to House Budget Chairman Jim Nussle (R-IA) earlier this month expressing their objections to ANWR in the budget language.

Many believed that ANWR, which has been the target of a more than decade-long fight in Congress, had a good shot at being passed last year. While the House overwhelmingly voted to open the refuge, the issue suffered a stunning setback in the Senate in late December when proponents failed to override a filibuster of a defense appropriations bill that called for refuge access for producers (see NGI, Dec. 26, 2005).

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) had inserted ANWR in the defense appropriations measure after it was stripped from the budget reconciliation package to appease moderate Republicans.

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