The Wilderness Society and SaveOurEnvironment.org have brought to my attention another scheme from pro-drilling factions in the Senate to open the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil exploration and extraction. It seems that Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Pete Domenici (Republican-New Mexico) said Wednesday that drilling language would finally be dropped from the budget reconciliation bill pending before US Congress.
However, this is only a temporary victory as drilling proponents, led by Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), are planning to shift their efforts to the Defense Appropriations Bill instead. They intend to add ANWR language to the must-pass Defense spending bill as a last-ditch attempt to open up ANWR before the Senate recesses for the holidays.
According to Platts, House and Senate aides said that Sen Steven, Congress' most ardent supporter for opening up the refuge to drilling, is attempting to collect enough votes to override the almost certain Democratic filibuster of the Defense bill if ANWR language were included. They report that an unidentified Senate aide said yesterday that Stevens did not have the necessary 60 votes to override a filibuster, and reports today indicate that he only has 52 votes.
Reuters reports that Senate Democrats said they will fight any effort by Republicans to use the crucial Defense Department budget bill to open ANWR to oil drilling. Most Democrats - excepting a few from oil-producing states - oppose drilling and have fought repeated efforts by drilling proponents to open ANWR. This latest attempt seems to be no exception.
Reuters reports that Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said if the ANWR drilling language is in the defense spending legislation Democrats would argue it violates Senate rules because the provision is not related to defense issues. "The (Senate) parliamentarian will rule in our favor," Reid told reporters.
Democrat John Kerry (D-Mass.) weighed in as well, saying, "It's appalling that the United States Senate is willing to hold our troops and hurricane victims hostage to their desperate attempts to satisfy big oil and drill in the Arctic Refuge."
"Debate about the future of the Arctic Refuge is a debate about our failed energy policy and our environmental legacy, not about the funding of our men and women and uniform, and it would be grossly irresponsible to include the drilling provision in the final Defense Appropriations bill," said Democrat Russ Feingold.
However, the defense spending measure is the only major legislation moving through Congress that ANWR could hitch a ride on, according to Senator Domenici, a major supporter of drilling in the refuge. "It's clear (ANWR drilling is) not going in the budget ... If anything it's going in the appropriations bill on defense," Domenici is quoted in the Reuters article.
According to Reuters, when Jeff Bingaman, the ranking Democrat on the Senate's energy panel, was asked if his fellow Democrats would filibuster such a move, he responded: "I would be surprised if some did not."
Senator Stevens has been pusing the hardest to find some way to open up ANWR for drilling and it seems that he has ruled out no tricks to see it done. His state stands to get half the estimated $10 billion in bonus bids that energy companies might pay to drill in ANW, assuming oil prices were around $50 a barrel. The federal government would be the recipient of the other half of the revenue.
The Anchorage Daily News reports that Stevens is also considering attaching ANWR language to the bill authorizing Katrina disaster relief money. ADN quotes Stevens as saying, "It's going to be awfully hard to vote against Katrina. ... And if it's in there, maybe disaster-area people will vote with me on ANWR." He did reportedly assure reporters that he would not withhold disaster relief in order to get the ANWR provision passed.
Details aside, Stevens apparently is loath to give up on ANWR and ADN reports that he has pledged to stay in Washington until he passes an ANWR bill, even if that means keeping senators in Washington through the year-end holidays.
I've made quite a bit of posts on the repeated efforts to open ANWR for drilling during this session of Congress. These efforts have repeatedly failed, although sometimes only by a thin margin. As I've said before, while the amount of oil in ANWR is not insubstantial, I find it very hard to accept the argument that drilling in ANWR has anything to do with domestic energy security when there are a whole host of much more effective measures - from increased fuel economy to promotion of plug-in hybrids and development of electric vehicles to efforts to cut-down on vehicle miles traveled and use domestically produced ethanol or biodiesel (from cellulosic biomass please!) - that get very little attention from Congress.
If ANWR were simply one plank in a comprehensive effort to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, than I may be (reluctantly) willing to support it. At this stage, however, drilling in ANWR is about nothing more than ensuring additional profits for big oil companies (who are doing just fine if you ask me), and ensuring that Sen. Stevens can bring home some more bacon for his home state.
I strongly encourage you to call your sentators today and let them know that you oppose yet another attempt to open ANWR for drilling. While you are at it, suggest that if they are really interested in domestic energy security that they should start talking about increasing fuel efficiency standards, encouraging the development of plug-ins, EVs and cellulosic-biofuels. Perhaps one of their staffers should start circulating the energy blogo-sphere. They just might learn something useful...
I'll end with a bit of good news: the Wilderness Society reports that Congressional leaders announced this Tuesday "that they would drop mining provisions from budget reconciliation bill negotiations that would have put millions of acres of public lands -- including protected wildlands in parks, wildlife refuges, national monuments, and even wilderness areas -- up for sale." The provisions met broad opposition from all across the country from groups like hunters, anglers, businesses, governors, local officials, and everyday citizens.
The measure would have altered century-old mining claims regulations that would allow the transfer of mining claims on public lands to private developers.
So, after a long fight, and thanks in no small part to vocal opposition from citizens like you and me, both the mining provision and the ANWR provision will not be in the final budget reconciliation bill. Now if we could just convince Stevens et. al. to keep their grubby paws off of our pristine wildlands and finally give up and go home...