The House early Monday overwhelmingly voted to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and natural gas drilling as part of a major defense appropriations bill, but the measure faces significant opposition in the Senate from Democrats and moderate Republicans over ANWR.

After being stripped from the budget reconciliation package, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) devised a plan to include ANWR in the conference report on the defense spending bill, a move that has provoked numerous protests in the Senate. This is the latest chapter in the controversy that has surrounded efforts to open the Arctic refuge since the early 1990s.

While supporting the need for more energy in the United States, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) said that opening ANWR “ought to be a last resort,” and including it in the defense spending bill “makes no sense at all.”

ANWR is an “unrelated, extraneous provision” in the bill, Dorgan said, which violates Rule 28 of the Senate that apparently bars the inclusion of a provision in a conference report that was not approved in either the House or Senate versions of the appropriations bill. To invoke the rule — and require ANWR to be stripped from the bill — drilling opponents would need support from a majority of senators voting, according to Congressional Quarterly’s Green Sheets.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) on Monday accused Stevens and Republican leaders of “clearly breaking the rules” of the Senate.”We don’t break the rules, we live by the rules,” Stevens countered.

Tying ANWR to the defense spending bill is “legislative blackmail” because the measure is a “must-pass bill,” charged Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA).

In a letters sent to Congress Friday, David Parker, president of the American Gas Association, called on all Senate and House lawmakers to approve drilling in the Arctic refuge.

The House adjourned for the year after approving the $453 billion defense spending bill by 308-106, which includes ANWR. It’s now up to the Senate to decide whether leasing in ANWR becomes law. President Bush is a strong proponent of opening ANWR to oil and gas drilling. The bill also includes a provision to provide $2 billion in funding for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) in fiscal year 2006.

The conference report on the defense spending bill is expected to reach the Senate floor on Wednesday, at which time a vote is likely to occur, Dorgan said. In the meantime, the Senate will debate the procedures surrounding the bill’s vote.

©Copyright 2005Intelligence Press Inc. All rights reserved. The preceding news reportmay not be republished or redistributed, in whole or in part, in anyform, without prior written consent of Intelligence Press, Inc.