If ANWR Falters, Bush Vows to Look Elsewhere for Gas

Although opening up the coastal region of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to exploration is high on his list of things he would like to see accomplished, President Bush said last week that if Congress should fail to pass legislation to allow drilling in the Alaska region it will only toughen his resolve to lift restrictions on unprotected federal lands to drill for natural gas and oil.

"First of all, there are other areas in the United States on which we can find natural gas. I think it's important for us to open up ANWR. Whether or not the Congress sees it that way is another matter. That's not going to deter me from having, for example, the Interior Secretary look at all lands that are not.....to be fully protected, for exploration," he said during an impromptu press briefing last Thursday.

While "it would be helpful if we opened up ANWR," Bush told reporters "there's going to be a lot of areas where we can find natural gas in America other than ANWR."

The president said he would prefer to have "American gas" fuel the U.S. economy, "but if Congress decides not to have.....exploration in ANWR, we'll work with the Canadians." There is a "shortage of energy in America. And it doesn't matter to me where the gas comes from in the long run, just so long as we get gas moving into the country" to increase the nation's inventories.

He indicated the White has a "plan to make sure that gas.....flows freely out of Canada into the United States." He said he's already had discussions with Canada's prime minister. It's ironic, he noted, that the U.S. can have "meaningful discussions" with Canada about exploration in the Northwest Territories, while only "miles away" is ANWR, a gas-rich region of the U.S. that engenders controversy just by its mere mention. "It's important for us to explore, encourage exploration [and] work with the Canadians to get pipelines coming out of the Northwest Territories to the United States." Bush reported that he's had similar energy talks with officials in Mexico.

The chances of getting an ANWR bill through Congress began to dim when the House recently approved a budget resolution that didn't include any revenue from drilling in ANWR. The Senate's budget resolution, which is to be considered this week, fails to make a similar provision. There is a growing consensus among lawmakers in both houses, and on both sides of the aisle, that ANWR is unwinnable.

Bush declared for the first time last Thursday that "we're now in an energy crisis," which he said is "real in California and looms for other parts of our country if we don't quickly." He said it will require a "full affront" approach on the part of the nation to turn the tables.

Bush cited the energy crisis as the reason he decided against imposing mandatory caps on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants nationwide. In order to meet those caps, "our nation would have had to have had a lot of natural gas immediately flow into the system, which is impossible. We don't have the infrastructure [to be] able to move gas," he said during the White House briefing. "We've got pipeline capacity problems in the country."

Significant gas supplies also would help to curb greenhouse emissions, Bush said, but "there is not enough of it [gas]" at this time. "We need to have an active exploration program" with or without ANWR.

A White House energy task force chaired by Vice President Dick Cheney is expected to release a national energy policy in May, which will propose a series of recommendations and other actions to deal with the nation's energy problems in the short and long term. The policy recommendations will be sent to Congress, where two major omnibus energy bills are pending, and to federal energy regulators.

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