WASHINGTON - A lobbying push from labor unions helped keep a plan to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in President Bush's energy bill Wednesday, members of Congress said.
The U.S. House voted 223-206 to defeat an anti-drilling amendment before approving the total energy package a few minutes after 8 p.m. Alaska time.
Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young thanked a White House lobbyist outside the House chambers Wednesday night, saying, "You guys did your homework."
But he told the Washington correspondent of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that Bush's support was not the key to defeat of the anti-drilling amendment.
"I don't know whether he was that engaged," Young said. "I give total credit to this to the unions."
Rep. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat and the anti-drilling amendment's sponsor, agreed that the building trade unions stopped his progress. So did Minnesota Democratic Rep. James Oberstar.
"I think the building trades had a very significant impact," said Oberstar, one of 36 Democrats to vote against Markey's amendment. Thirty-four Republicans voted for it.
The pro-drilling lobbying effort included leaders of the Alaska Teamsters, who said opening ANWR's coastal plain would help create more than 735,000 new jobs. The Sierra Club has said that statistic is based upon "egregious extrapolation" in an outdated study.
One measure of labor's influence came last week when the Teamsters were able to convince the normally closed House Democratic Caucus to open its doors for a presentation on ANWR. Caucus leaders also invited representatives from the Sierra Club and the Alaska Wilderness League, leading to "an Oxford-style debate."
In addition to preserving the ANWR-opening language Wednesday night, the House voted 241-186 to spend the federal half of ANWR leasing revenue on renewable energy research and federal land maintenance.
Another amendment, approved 228-201, would limit the total development acreage in the coastal plain to 2,000 acres.
Young voted for both amendments.
"We talked this over with the oil companies and we're confident we can do this," he said.
The 2,000-acre figure has been central to the debate for months. Pro-drilling forces say that's all that would be disturbed out of the 1.5-million-acre coastal plain. Opponents say the disturbance would be much greater because the work would spread out in a web.
Drilling in the Arctic refuge will come up again in the Senate, where Majority Leader Tom Daschle has declared the provision dead on arrival.
U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski disagreed.
"I look forward to full and honest debate on ANWR in the Senate," said the Alaska Republican.
For in-depth Empire articles on ANWR, see "Refuge of Riches" at www.juneauempire.com.