There will be no attempt to revive drilling in an Alaska wildlife refuge as part of a Senate energy bill, says the Republican senator who will guide the legislation.
Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) said the Senate's recent rejection of a proposal to develop oil in the refuge has made it clear that another such confrontation will only fail and, perhaps, jeopardize broader energy legislation.
"There's nothing mysterious about it. We'll lose. We'll bring it up, debate it for an hour or two. We'll vote [and] lose," said Domenici in an interview. Domenici believes the refuge's oil should be developed.
This week, the House signaled that it again will call for opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil companies. The provision cleared the House Resources Committee as part of a House energy package, and Democrats are not believed to have enough votes to block it when it comes up for a floor vote.
In the Senate, it's another story.
When the Senate rejected a drilling proposal by a 52-to-48 vote two weeks ago, it "worked its will," Domenici said.
He said he would not put the ANWR drilling measure into the broad energy bill his Energy and Natural Resources Committee will begin forming next week, nor does he expect any other senator -- even Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) -- to press for an amendment on the Senate floor.
To do so, Domenici said, would only prompt a filibuster by ANWR drilling opponents, led by Democrats he referred to as "the presidential people" -- those seeking to challenge President Bush, who has repeatedly called for developing the refuge's oil.
Democratic Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, John F. Kerry of Massachusetts and John Edwards of North Carolina are all strongly opposed to drilling in the refuge and are all running for president in 2004.
"Our bill would be dead because they would be delighted to kill the bill -- any of the presidential people would take it on," said Domenici, during an interview in his Senate office.
He emphasized that he has long believed in developing ANWR's oil and expressed amazement at the "political muscle" of drilling opponents.
"The more I review ANWR, the more difficult it is for me to understand how it could have become such a big environmental issue -- but it has," Domenici said.
Still, he said he is confident one day Congress will lift the ban on developing the millions of barrels of oil beneath the refuge's 1.5 million-acre coastal plain.
"But that's for another day," he said. "It will happen. I'll still be a senator when it happens, but it won't happen right now."
Lieberman said in a statement: "I hope this means we can move past the false promise of Arctic drilling and move towards a real plan for energy independence."
Even without the contentious Arctic refuge issue to contend with, Domenici expects some fireworks when the energy bill gets to the Senate floor shortly after Memorial Day.
There will be a debate about automobile fuel economy, he predicted, adding that Democrats aspiring to be president will "stumble over each other trying to get" more stringent automobile fuel economic requirements into the bill. Kerry and Lieberman led that charge last year, but failed.
He expects some uproar over how much of a role federal regulators should have in electricity markets and management of power transmission systems. The draft Senate bill would give federal regulators additional clout in locating power lines.