Move to strike ANWR fails in Senate
By LIZ RUSKIN
Anchorage Daily News
Published: November 3, 2005
Last Modified: November 3, 2005 at 12:18 PM
WASHINGTON -- The Senate voted 51-48 today against removing a provision to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from a national budget bill.
The Senate is expected to vote on final passage of the bill tonight or tomorrow.
This spring, 51 senators voted on an ANWR-related issue in favor of drilling, so it was not unexpected that drilling supporters would prevail on the refuge amendment today. The fate of the budget package it is part of is less certain.
"I think today's accomplishment is a big one for Alaskans but it's a huge one for the country," Sen. Lisa Murkowski said after the vote. She cited the benefits to the U.S. economy, fuel supply and the commitment to protect the Arctic environment.
Meanwhile, the House version of the bill cleared the House budget committee Thursday, with an ANWR drilling provision in it.
Sen. Ted Stevens noted that the bill still has hurdles to clear. The House has to pass its bill, which could happen next week. Then a conference committee must resolve the differences between the two. Both chambers must then vote on the final bill before it goes to the president for his signature.
One of the big differences between the two bill is the level of cuts. The Senate bill would cut $39 billion from benefit programs, while the House is aiming for a cut of nearly $54 billion.
Brian Moore, legislative director of the Alaska Wilderness League, said he's "confident, 100 percent" that his side will prevail in the end.
In the latest chapter of a debate that's been occuring for many years, proponents and opponents of ANWR drilling sparred on the Senate floor Wednesday.
Democratic senators trumpeted the beauty and fragility of that northeastern corner of Alaska.
It's "the crown jewel of our national wildlife refuge system," said Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., during debate.
The land is an "unbelievable, pristine resource," said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. She brought a poster-sized photo of the refuge's coastal plain speckled with birds to illustrate its richness.
Stevens was unmoved by such talk.
"We constantly hear this is a pristine place, it's the most beautiful place on earth," Stevens grumbled.
"Now, that is the area in winter," he said, pointing to his photo of the area, a moonscape of nothing but snowfield and sky, "and I defy anyone to say that that's a beautiful place that has to be preserved for the future. It is a barren wasteland, frozen wasteland."
Come summer, it's just "constant, constant, constant tundra. No trees. No beauty at all," Stevens said.
America needs ANWR's oil, he and other drilling supporters said.
"ANWR will not only help us meet the challenges of our reliance on foreign sources of oil, it can also help us generate jobs and a stronger economy," Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said.
Democrats said the effect would be minimal: a penny less for a gallon of gas.
And so it went Wednesday morning, with occasional new twists on the arguments that each side has deployed for years.
The amount of oil in ANWR -- 10 billion barrels is the mean estimate of what could be extracted -- makes it equivalent to the oil fields of Texas, proponents said. By itself, that's barely enough to power the country for six months, opponents countered.
The two sides also argued the importance of the bill's 2,000-acre limit on industry's footprint. It's like putting an airport in an area the size of South Carolina, Stevens said. Cantwell said the result would be "a spider web of industrial activity" across the entire coastal plain, since the 2,000 acres need not be contiguous and pipelines would connect the scattered parcels.
It's been 25 years since Congress created the 19 million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. That 1980 law left ANWR's coastal plain, the 1.5 million acres bordering the Beaufort Sea, in limbo. Congress didn't give it the protected status of wilderness, nor did it allow oil leasing in the area. Rather, the law ordered a study of the coastal flats and left their fate to a future decision of Congress.
Alaska's U.S. senators and House member have been pressing to develop the area since.
Democrats have been able to block them with a filibuster, and the Alaska senators haven't had the 60 votes it takes to break one. This year, they put ANWR in the budget reconciliation bill, which under Senate rules cannot be filibustered and thus can pass with a simple majority.
Sen. Pete Domenici, a steadfast advocate of drilling in the refuge, acknowledged complaints from some senators that tackling this in a budget bill is unfair, but the New Mexico Republican said requiring his side to get 60 votes is too much.
"Who's ever heard of that as an American principle?" Domenici asked. "The old American way of 51 votes is fine, and that's why we're here."
Stevens, as he often does when ANWR is debated, told his colleagues that back in 1980, two senators promised him the Senate would allow drilling once the mandated studies of the coastal plain were completed. Those senators, Henry "Scoop" Jackson of Washington and Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts, died years ago, but Stevens called on today's senators to honor their pledge. It especially irked him that it was a Washington state senator, Cantwell, who sponsored Wednesday's amendment to remove ANWR from the budget bill.
"An old bull -- and that's what they call us when they reach my age in the Senate, (a) World War II type -- we remember when a member's word meant something in the Senate and a word of a member who had left the Senate was still fulfilled," Stevens said, "In our state we quote Robert Service: 'A promise made is a debt unpaid.' This is a debt unpaid to this Senate, to the country, to Alaska."
Peter Van Tuyn, an Anchorage environmental lawyer working for the Alaska Wilderness League, said that whatever Stevens was promised back then, he didn't get it in the law.
"Congress is always free to do what it wants to do," Van Tuyn said. "It sure isn't an obligation."
Reporter Liz Ruskin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My first highlight emphasises the true nature of the land. For anyone who hasn't seen it yet, here is a picture of the land surrounding Deadhorse. If you walk in exactly that direction for many miles, you eventually end up in the coastal plain of ANWR, and your elevation wouldn't have changed any. You won't see a single tree the entire journey either.
My second highlight actually centers on social interaction more than it does the ANWR issue. There used to be an unspoken code of honor among people. Too bad society has turned to "I'll take what I want, be damned everyone else!" to the point where even something as sacred as romance is exploited now with people hurting everyone else just to get in someone elses pants. It ruins everything for those of us who want to live civilized. This whole planet is fairly uncivilized. The closest I've been to civilization my entire life was actually in Deadhorse, 500 miles away from "civilization"!