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WASHINGTON - Contrary to recent reports, President Bush still plans to ask lawmakers to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling, his spokesman said Monday.
"The president's position on opening up a small portion of ANWR for oil development is unchanged," said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer.
Fleischer made the comment after acknowledging "there was some confusion" Sunday when administration officials were asked on TV network shows about a Time magazine report quoting Bush's chief political adviser, Karl Rove.
The magazine quoted an unnamed source saying Rove told a media consultant for oil companies in a private meeting last week that Bush wasn't going to push Congress for new drilling in Alaska.
Asked about the magazine article on CBS' "Face the Nation", Environmental Protection Agency chief Christie Whitman said a task force report being prepared by Vice President Dick Cheney "didn't specifically say you must drill in ANWR" but instead would present a range of options.
Tina Kreisher, an EPA spokeswoman, said Monday that Whitman was emphasizing that "the form of the final report has not been decided and there have been discussions about keeping it more general, not necessarily site-specific, but ANWR may be an exception."
The report, still being drafted, is expected to be submitted to Bush next month.
Fleischer said Monday that the energy proposal from Cheney's task force "will include a provision calling for opening of a small portion of ANWR for energy development."
Claire Buchan, a White House spokeswoman, said Rove did not say in the meeting last week that Bush was putting less priority on opening the Alaska refuge to drilling.
Interior Secretary Gale Norton said on two other shows Sunday, CNN's "Late Edition" and ABC's "This Week," that drilling the Arctic refuge remains an administration priority.
Bush has acknowledged that opening the Arctic wildlife refuge to drilling may be a hard sell in Congress. Seven Republican senators were staunchly opposed to drilling at the start of the session in January. The Senate is divided 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans.