FAIRBANKS - New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici has identified drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska's northeast corner as his first priority for the upcoming congressional session.
Domenici is the top Republican with authority over energy matters. Almost immediately after being re-elected chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, he issued a news release Tuesday touting his plans for the 1.5 million-acre coastal plain, according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
"We are going to make a push to develop our vast oil resources in the Arctic Refuge in a way that leaves the environment pristine while stabilizing oil prices and enhancing our energy independence," he said.
According to government mid-range estimates, the area has about 5 billion barrels of developable oil, or about a third of the total oil pumped from the North Slope since 1977.
Domenici indicated that he is going to try a new strategy to open the refuge to drilling.
The House of Representatives approved drilling in the past two congressional sessions as part of a national energy bill. But the measure foundered on filibuster threats in the Senate.
Domenici said this time he expects to use a budgetary process to avoid a filibuster. That also has failed in the past, but this year, with Republican gains in the election, drilling supporters think they have the 51 votes necessary to succeed.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska and a member of Domenici's committee, also put ANWR drilling at the top of her list after being sworn into office Tuesday.
Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, also was sworn into office Tuesday, after an election in which he faced no significant opposition and used much of his time and money to boost Murkowski.
Young has served Alaska in the House since a special election in 1973 and now is the third highest-ranking Republican. In 2001, he gained the chairmanship of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
He said Tuesday that, besides ANWR, he will push for passage of a bill setting highway spending levels for the next several years.
Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, did not face re-election last year. Stevens likely will be elected chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on Wednesday, leaving his six-year chairmanship of, but not his membership on, the Senate Appropriations Committee. Stevens has served in the Senate since his appointment in 1968.