Alaska editorials: Congress' battle over ANWR is not over yet

Posted: Friday, December 30, 2005

This editorial first appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

In an age when the public has become tired of politicians and would-be officeholders changing their positions - flip-flopping, to hearken back to a theme of the 2004 presidential race - Sen. Ted Stevens has been remarkably consistent in his quest to have Congress deliver on a promise. That promise, made to him decades ago to win his acceptance of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, was to open the coastal plain of the newly expanded and renamed Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil development.

Now, 25 years later - more than half of Alaska's existence as a state - the promise remains unfulfilled. The U.S. Senate, in which Sen. Stevens has spent 37 years of his life, bowed, or some will say cowed, on Wednesday to those who fail to see the benefit of acquiring the estimated 10 billion barrels of oil estimated to be held in the coastal plain and who fail to believe the oil can be produced safely. ANWR drilling proponents fell short of the number of votes needed to end a Democratic-led filibuster.

The public, according to pollsters, sees merit in getting hold of ANWR's oil. And a majority of U.S. senators see it that way, too. But the Senate's rules requiring 60 votes to break a filibuster is a much higher and more difficult-to-reach threshold. The House earlier expressed its support by approving development in the refuge's coastal plain.

In defeat, ANWR development proponents must press the message that there is majority support for opening the refuge. The Senate vote showed it. The House vote showed it. Public opinion late this year supported it.

The Senate's vote is being called by some a "stinging" defeat for Sen. Stevens. But given the display of majority support in Congress and among Americans, isn't it the nation that has suffered a defeat?

By voting to uphold the filibuster, the Senate has ensured Sen. Stevens' quest to open the refuge will continue. Even ardent opponents of opening the refuge to oil development expect the issue, which has been made into the most-controversial of national environmental debates, to return next year or the year after.

Sen. Stevens, along with Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young, should carry on. And one day the oil and champagne will flow.

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