WASHINGTON - The Bush administration wants an extra $5 million from Congress to start planning new oil lease sales in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and for analysis of seismic data from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Some House Democrats are protesting the funding plan.
The $5 million is in the administration's budget request for the 2002 fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1, and would go to the Bureau of Land Management in Alaska.
The money would "support expanded exploration and development of the NPR-A" as well as planning and studies in ANWR "to meet the goal of holding the first lease sale in 2004," according to the Bush budget request.
NPR-A is west of the Prudhoe Bay oil fields on Alaska's North Slope, while ANWR is to the east.
As of Monday, about 52 House Democrats had signed a protest letter to Rep. Joe Skeen, a New Mexico Republican and chairman of the Interior subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. The letter was written by Rep. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat.
Amy Inaba, spokeswoman for Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young, told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner's Washington correspondent that having the $5 million would be helpful but that "we don't view that as vital."
"Our focus is getting it open," she said of ANWR. If that happened, all the planning money would follow, she said.
Congress decided in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980 that ANWR's coastal plain should be studied for its wilderness and oil values. Studies were completed 14 years ago, but Congress has neither opened the area to drilling nor protected it as wilderness, despite campaigns by proponents of both.
Democrats said drilling in ANWR's coastal plain is not legal so the administration should drop its budget request.
"To spend money in support of something that is unlawful to undertake in the first place seems particularly imprudent and, in any event, would trigger a major debate over a highly charged issue that could severely complicate the passage of the overall bill," the Democrats said.
The administration, in documents justifying its budget request, did not break out how much money it wants for NPR-A or ANWR work. An official in the BLM's Alaska office, though, said the $5 million request initially related entirely to NPR-A.
The money would help cover the cost of a June 2002 lease sale in NPR-A, said Gene Terland, special projects coordinator for BLM's Alaska office in Anchorage.
The BLM also needs money for inspection and enforcement work and for processing drilling applications in already leased areas, Terland said. It also likely will need money to process an application from Phillips Alaska for "full-field development" of its oil and gas discoveries about 20 miles south of the Alpine field. Phillips announced the discoveries May 21.
In addition, the new money would pay to start an environmental impact statement on a new lease sale area in NPR-A between the Ikpikpuk River and Barrow, Terland said. No date has been set for that sale.
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