Senate Democrats Spearhead Defeat of ANWR Provision

Posted March 19, 2003 at 3:13pm

As part of the Senate’s continuing work on the fiscal 2004 budget, lawmakers voted Wednesday afternoon to remove language that would have allowed oil and natural gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) offered the amendment, which passed 52-48, that stripped from the budget resolution a set of instructions directing the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to allow oil companies to move ahead with drilling.

Republican leaders hoped inclusion of the instructions in the budget language would ensure easier passage of the controversial proposal.

“I hate that we’re fighting this in the context of the budget resolution,” Boxer said at a Wednesday-morning press conference packed with environmentalists.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) released a statement praising the vote, but recognizing the fight is probably not over.

“Today’s vote by the Senate to block the Bush administration from opening the Refuge to oil drilling was the right one, but it may not be the last,” he said. “The administration brought this plan to the United States Senate last year. We stopped them then, just as we stopped them today. But if their record is any guide, they will try again. I pledge that we will stop them again.”

But Republican leaders speaking after the vote allayed those fears.

Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), who said the oil in ANWR is equal to all of Texas’ reserves, said it is unlikely supporters will include drilling in an energy package or any other bill because those bills would be subject to a filibuster.

He described Boxer’s amendment as a “setback” for the country, saying that the United States needs to control more of its oil supply if Americans are going to “drive in our cars and live in our houses in the way we like.”

Domenici vowed to increase oil and gas exploration nonetheless. In a statement he said that his committee will mark up a bill that boosts renewable fuel usage and encourages conservation while also looking for new reserves in the Gulf of Mexico and other areas.

Domenici vowed to increase oil and gas exploration nonetheless. In a statement he said that his committee will markup a bill that boosts renewable fuel usage and encourages conservation while also looking for new reserves in the Gulf of Mexico and other areas.

Oil-drilling proponents made what turned out to be an unsuccessful last-ditch effort to woo wavering Senators before the 3 p.m. vote.

A press release quoting three Inupiat Eskimo tribe leaders was circulated stating that allowing oil exploration would help their tribe’s economy.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) said before the vote that if the ANWR language were to be dropped from the budget resolution, a similar provision would be included in an energy bill he wants to bring to the floor by April 1.

Eight Republicans joined Democrats in passing the amendment: Sens. Lincoln Chafee (R.I.), John McCain (Ariz.), Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Mike DeWine (Ohio), Peter Fitzgerald (Ill.), Gordon Smith (Ore.) and freshman Norman Coleman of Minnesota.

Five Democrats bolted to vote against the amendment: Sens. Zell Miller (Ga.), and the four from Alaska and Louisiana: Daniel Akaka, Daniel Inouye, John Breaux and Mary Landrieu.

Environmentalists want to permanetly protect ANWR from oil drilling.

To that end, Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) has sponsored legislation that would designate it as a federal wilderness area, thereby barring all commercial activities.