Drilling in ANWR may be shelved until election

Posted: Friday, June 18, 2004

ANCHORAGE - Environmental groups say it's a small but likely short-lived victory that federal lawmakers have set aside a measure to drill in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

A House proposal to allow ANWR drilling was withdrawn on Wednesday. It had called for a portion of refuge oil revenue to go to a miner's health care plan. The measure was pulled after a miner's union opposed the provision, and sponsors feared they would not have enough votes to pass it.

The House has approved drilling in the Arctic refuge in the past, only to have it repeatedly fail in the Senate.

Environmentalists on Thursday were muted in applauding the non-vote.

"It will come up again. The question is, where and what it's attached to," said Eleanor Huffines, regional director of The Wilderness Society.

Assistant Interior Secretary Rebecca Watson said earlier this week a real effort to work out a solution to ANWR drilling probably won't come about until after November's presidential election.

"The general wisdom in Washington at this point is nothing is going to happen until after the election," Watson said while visiting Anchorage. "We think ANWR is a good idea, (and) it's been modified to address the concerns people have raised, but it has not gotten us across the finish line at this point.

"I think when we speak of a second Bush term, we want to come back and work with our partners in Congress and see if there's a way that we can develop ANWR."

The coastal region of ANWR, east of the Prudhoe Bay fields on Alaska's North Slope, is thought to have as much as 10.4 billion barrels of recoverable oil.

Roger Herrera, a lobbyist and consultant for the pro-ANWR drilling group Arctic Power, acknowledges that November's election is in the back of lawmakers' minds, but says ANWR is too important an issue to put aside until then.

"I think the attempted strategy earlier this week indicates that nobody in the leadership is just letting this lie," Herrera said. "The fact that House leadership is doing something so fraught with difficulty and controversy is indicative (of) ... the importance of doing it, come what may."

Huffines said the amount oil trapped under the surface in the Arctic refuge isn't enough to make a dent on high gas prices, and that most people don't believe it's worth drilling.

"This administration and certain members of Congress continue to try to make any ridiculous scam or scheme to push through a bill against a majority of Americans' wishes," she said.

But supporters say the United States needs to lessen its dependence on foreign oil, even if it's barrel by barrel.

"The reality, I would argue, more important than the political situation, is the energy situation we see ourselves in now. It's getting to be blacker and blacker," Herrera said.

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