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WASHINGTON - Members of Congress who have successfully blocked oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for more than a decade vowed to do everything, including a Senate filibuster, to protect the preserve again this year. But they say there is a real possibility they will fail this time.
"If there ever was an occasion to support a filibuster, this is," said Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., who attended a rally Wednesday with environmental groups. "There are not 60 senators who will vote for drilling."
But he and others agreed that if Republicans put the drilling legislation in the budget resolution, which is not susceptible to a filibuster, there's a greater chance it will have the votes to pass.
Republican gains in the Senate give President Bush his best chance yet to win approval for oil drilling in the refuge, which is one of his top energy priorities. The GOP now has a 55-44-1 majority in the Senate, compared with a narrower margin last year - 51 Republicans, 48 Democrats and one Democratic-leaning independent.
"The timing is right this year," said House Resources Committee spokeswoman Jennifer Zuccarelli. "There are new senators who are coming on supporting us, and I think it's going to happen this year."
Lieberman said he believes that "a couple" of the new senators could be persuaded to oppose the drilling. There are two new Democrats and seven new Republicans in the Senate.
At a rally, complete with environmentalists in white polar bear costumers, House and Senate members said better fuel economy standards for sports utility vehicles and increased use of ethanol would be more effective in stemming America's dependence on foreign oil.
"This is all about corporate greed," said Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., noting that he gets far greater fuel economy in his SUV in Minnesota, where gasoline must be 10 percent ethanol.
And Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said the solution lies not in the environmentally sensitive Arctic refuge, but in Detroit, where automakers must be pressed to increase fuel economy.
Republicans in the House and Senate have said they would push for Alaska refuge drilling legislation early this year.