Oil and natural gas leasing on the coastal plain of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) remained in the Senate's $39 billion budget reconciliation package late Thursday, surviving several challenges by Democrats throughout the day. Its approval was all but assured as the Senate moved to vote out the budget measure.

By 51 to 48, the Republican-led Senate rejected an amendment, offered by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), that would have prevented energy development in ANWR. The bill as it stands directs the Interior Department to conduct two lease sales on a 2,000-acre portion of the coastal plain of ANWR before Oct. 1, 2010. It assumes that ANWR leasing will produce $2.5 billion in revenues for the federal treasury over a five-year period.

The Senate defeated (51-48) a second Cantwell amendment, which would have put the brakes on ANWR exploration and production if Alaska tried legally to obtain more than 50% of the revenues from ANWR leasing.

The amendment was an attempt to "come in the back door and kill ANWR," charged Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The Senate, by 83 to 16, approved an amendment by Sen. Ron Wyden (R-OR) that would bar the exporting of any oil produced in the Arctic refuge. The Senate now must await action by the full House on its budget measure, which is scheduled to take place next week.

The House Budget Committee on Thursday approved its budget reconciliation package that would give coastal states the ability to opt out of moratoriums on oil and natural gas drilling on the federal Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) and would open ANWR to oil and gas leasing.

By 21 to 16, the committee, chaired by Rep. Jim Nussle (R-IA), voted to send the $53.9 billion House budget package to the floor. The measure assumes that ANWR would produce $2.5 billion in additional revenues between 2006-2010, and that expanded OCS and mining activity would result in net savings of $158 million over five years. It also would raise spending for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program by $1 billion in fiscal year 2006.

The initiatives on ANWR, expanded OCS development and LIHEAP were offered by the House Resources Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee for inclusion in the budget reconciliation package.

The budget reconciliation could face trouble when it reaches the House floor. A group of moderate Republicans have signaled their opposition to ANWR being included in the budget package, and have told House leaders that they may oppose the deficit-cutting budget measure if ANWR remains, according to a report in Congressional Quarterly's Green Sheets.

Nussle acknowledged he is "concerned" about ANWR, adding that it could be a major hurdle to passage of the budget reconciliation in the House.

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