By LIZ RUSKIN
March 16, 2006
"It's a little bit of deja vu all over again," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.
So far, the game plan looks identical to last year's. A Republican-drafted Senate resolution calls for opening the refuge. It is headed for a vote, probably Thursday.
The resolution doesn't have the force of law, but it lays the groundwork for an ANWR measure later, in something called a budget reconciliation bill. Under Senate rules, budget bills of this type can't be held up with a filibuster, so they need just 51 votes to pass instead of 60.
Last year, the budget bill with ANWR in it passed the Senate with 52 votes. Then it skidded to a halt in the House, where a group of anti-drilling Republicans sided with all the Democrats to defeat it. It passed only after House leaders took out the ANWR provision.
Once again, the moderate Republicans in the House are balking at passing a budget that includes ANWR drilling.
Two dozen of them signed a letter this month urging House leaders to leave ANWR out of the budget debate. It would be better to look at alternative energy sources than to "ruin the pristine wilderness which is home to the most complete Arctic and sub-Arctic ecosystem in the United States," they wrote.
Drilling advocates say tapping ANWR would decrease dependence on foreign oil and can be done safely. Opponents say ANWR, even under the most optimistic scenarios, doesn't contain enough oil to make a dent in America's appetite for crude.
"I guess the news is that there's really nothing new in terms of the issue before us," Murkowski said. "It just is a very controversial, very emotional issue, as it has been over the past 25 years of debate."
She said she expected the resolution to again pass the Senate.
One difference this year is that the ANWR bill likely won't be paired, as it was last year, with deep cuts to entitlement programs. The cuts were especially unpopular with House Democrats. Without them, the Democrats may not be so solidly united.
But Pete Rafle of The Wilderness Society said last year's budget battle is still fresh in everyone's mind, and that should strengthen opposition to ANWR drilling.
"The fact is that in the context of a budget resolution, this idea of drilling was shown to be not a viable idea," he said.
Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com
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