ANWR Issue Roils Senate Again

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The last-minute push by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) to insert oil drilling on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge into a must-pass defense bill threw the Senate into turmoil yesterday.

Some senators questioned whether to hold up the legislation in retaliation, while a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans are trying to strip out the ANWR provision before the bill passes the Senate.

Stevens spokeswoman Courtney Boone said the provision was directly relevant to the pending defense bill because the Pentagon ranks as the federal government's biggest consumer of oil. "Senator Stevens believes ANWR is integral to our nation's defense," she said. "It is imperative for our nation's security that we reduce our dependency on foreign oil."

But several senators said the provision does not belong in the military bill, and said they would be willing to filibuster the measure if Stevens did not back down.

"Let's be very clear about what's happening here. Republicans -- Senator Stevens in particular -- are putting oil companies ahead of our troops," said Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.). "This is about keeping faith with our troops and getting the help and support that they need as fast as possible, and it's about preserving the integrity of the legislative process."

An aide to Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), who has consistently opposed drilling in the Arctic, said her boss was also outraged at Stevens's move. "Senator Snowe believes that inserting ANWR into the defense appropriations bill discredits the integrity of the process," spokeswoman Antonia Ferrier said. "The American people will see this for what it is, a cynical approach to legislating that will further erode public confidence in the federal government."

It remains unclear whether Stevens -- who has said hurricane-stricken Louisiana's "levees will be paid for when we drill in ANWR" -- will succeed in his latest gambit. He has the support of energy companies and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who was negotiating yesterday with Democrats on whether to hold a vote as early as today on the matter.

In a letter Friday, the American Petroleum Institute's president, Red Cavaney, urged lawmakers to act now on drilling in the refuge. Cavaney said the land could hold between 5 billion and 16 billion barrels of recoverable oil and could ease the current energy crunch, but he also noted that "ANWR will not provide the United States with all its domestic energy needs."

Although some House Republicans also objected to the provision -- 21 voted against a rule bringing the defense bill to the floor in an effort to remove it -- 16 Democrats crossed party lines to approve the rule, and the defense spending bill passed the House by a wide margin in the final vote.

House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood L. Boehlert (R-N.Y.), who opposes Arctic drilling, said he could not persuade enough members to challenge their leaders on a popular defense bill.

"This never, never, never should have been added on as an extraneous matter to a bill to fund and pay and equip our troops," he said. "But it was, and we had to deal with the reality of that."

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