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Linking Arctic drilling to budget may backfire
Anchorage Daily News


November 08, 2005

WASHINGTON - Proposals to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge have sailed through the House in recent years, only to die in the Senate. Ironically, now that the Senate has finally passed a drilling bill, it looks like it's in trouble in the House.





"Sure, I'm worried about the House," Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski, a Republican, acknowledged. He pushed ANWR drilling for 22 years as a senator. "I think we all had certain assumptions that the House wasn't going to be a problem," he said.

For proponents of drilling, the Arctic preserve is caught in a strategic conundrum. The drilling measure squeaked through the Senate last week with 52 votes because it was attached to a budget bill. If it had been attached to a regular bill, opponents would have threatened to filibuster, a Senate custom of talking a bill to death. Republicans didn't have the 60 votes it takes to stop a filibuster, so the bill would have failed. Drilling proponents knew they had to move ANWR on a budget bill because that kind of bill can't be filibustered.

But in the House, ANWR may fail precisely because it is attached to a budget bill.

When refuge drilling has been part of an energy bill, some Democrats, particularly those from oil-patch states, have voted for it, explained Melinda Pierce, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club.

"But there's unanimity among the Democratic lawmakers when it comes to the budget," she said.

This spring, no House Democrats voted for the Republican budget plan, which called for some $35 billion in cuts. It passed, 214-211, with 15 Republicans also voting against it.

Then House conservatives insisted on deeper cuts. Their budget/ANWR bill now has almost $54 billion in cuts, including reductions to Medicaid, food stamps and student loan programs. The House may vote on it as early as next week.

So Pierce and the rest of the environmental lobby are concentrating on convincing more Republican moderates to vote against it.

"Clearly, we're looking at all 30 (House) Republicans who've voted against drilling in the past, and that's where we're concentrating our grass-roots efforts," Pierce said.

Conservation groups have been running print and television ads in eight states, going door-to-door in certain districts, holding letter-writing parties and demonstrating outside legislative offices.

Drilling proponents are also concentrating on Republican moderates. A few months ago, it would have been Rep. Tom DeLay's job to enforce party unity. But the powerful Texas Republican, nicknamed "The Hammer," was indicted recently on money-laundering charges and had to step down as the House majority leader.

"He's (been) responsible pretty much for the discipline, and he's not there anymore," Murkowski noted. "So where these folks go ... we'll have to see."

Republican leaders acknowledged last week that they don't yet have the votes in the House to pass their bill.

When a reporter asked Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the acting GOP leader, if the leadership might have to remove ANWR to get the votes, Blunt said the bill "will undoubtedly not be exactly the same when it gets to the floor," according to the trade publication Environment and Energy Daily.

Alaska Rep. Don Young, a Republican, ultimately expects the House to vote for ANWR drilling, but it won't be easy, an aide said. "He accepts that it is going to be a challenge," said spokeswoman Meredith Kenny.


Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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