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WASHINGTON -- Sen. Frank Murkowski pitched development of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee but a fellow senator said the panel should move on.
"I hope we don't get caught up dancing on the head of this pin called ANWR," North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan said Thursday. "Frankly, ANWR is not going to happen in this Congress. There is so much more we can do."
Murkowski responded by arguing the merits of opening the area. The refuge, considered by advocates as the best prospect in the United States for a major oil strike, is an essential part of any national energy policy, he said.
Murkowski got some help from Interior Secretary Gale Norton, who asserted that the work could be done without harming the Porcupine Caribou Herd and other wildlife.
Murkowski noted that oil and gas is produced in about 30 other national wildlife refuges around the nation. "We seem to have an assumption that refuges are like national parks, where no development is allowed."
"Why is ANWR any different from any other refuge?" he asked Norton.
Norton said development is allowed in refuges when it "is compatible with the purposes of the refuge." ANWR, she noted, "is somewhat unique" because Congress in 1980 designated a portion of the coastal plain to study for possible oil and gas development.
But Charles Clusen, a senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said oil development is "incompatible with purposes of the refuge."
The coastal plain is the "biological heart" of the refuge, he said, providing habitat for polar and grizzly bears, musk oxen, Dall sheep, wolverines, and millions of waterfowl and other migratory birds.
Clusen also questioned the economic benefits of developing ANWR oil, saying it would contribute too little to affect the nation's security or energy prices.