Backdoor bid to drill in ANWR

By Julia Scott
Published February 25, 2005 11:02PM (EST)

The battle to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil and gas drilling received fresh ammunition on February 8, when President Bush reiterated that he would like to "allow for exploration in environmentally responsible ways" as soon as possible in the region.

Attempts to explore the area for development have been locked in a Senate stalemate for more than a decade. Polling has revealed that the public overwhelmingly opposes the idea on the grounds that drilling would be the opposite of "environmentally responsible."

Now the chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, Pete Domenici (R-NM), and drilling proponents in the House, would like to circumvent a regular Senate vote by including the legislation in a budget resolution and reconciliation process. Passage of a budget bill would require 50 votes instead of 60, ensuring a smoother ride for the legislation.

"The American people don't want drilling in the Arctic Refuge, and they know they don't have the votes to pass drilling through the normal legislative process, so they're resorting to this backdoor trickery to try to sneak this through," said a Pete Rafle, Communications Director for the Wilderness Society, a group trying to raise awareness about the issue.

The Bush administration is banking on an initial $1.2 billion in leasing fees from oil companies, which would likely to into the Treasury -- it's included in its proposed FY 2006 budget. Alaska would pocket an equal share.

Leasing off parcels of land in the refuge may prove difficult in such a controversial area, however. Alaska state Governor Frank Murkowski has already offered leases to drill in state waters three miles north of the refuge boundary, but got no takers. ConocoPhillips and BP have pulled out of Arctic Power , a slick pro-development coalition.

Julia Scott

San Francisco-based freelance journalist Julia Scott writes about water and energy issues for various publications. She also covers the environment for Bay Area News Group, a chain of newspapers in Northern California.

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