Friday 04 April 2003
WASHINGTON -- There will be no attempt to revive drilling in an Alaska wildlife refuge as part of a Senate energy bill, says the Republican senator who will guide the legislation.
Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said the Senate's recent rejection of a proposal to develop oil in the refuge has made it clear that another such confrontation will only fail and, perhaps, jeopardize broader energy legislation.
"There's nothing mysterious about it. We'll lose. We'll bring it up, debate it for an hour or two. We'll vote (and) lose,'' said Domenici in an interview, explaining why he has no intention of pursuing the issue, though he firmly believes the refuge's oil should be developed.
This week the House signaled that it again will call for opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil companies. The provision cleared the House Resources Committee as part of a House energy package and Democrats are not believed to have enough votes to block it when it comes up for a floor vote, possibly as early as next week.
But in the Senate it's another story.
When the Senate rejected a drilling proposal by a 52-48 vote two weeks ago it "worked its will,'' said Domenici.
He said he would not put the ANWR drilling measure into the broad energy bill his Energy and Natural Resources Committee will begin putting together next week, nor does he expects any other senator -- even Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, a Republican -- to press for an amendment on the Senate floor.
To do so, Domenici said, would only prompt a filibuster (a delaying tactic that requires 60 votes to overcome) by ANWR drilling opponents, led by Democrats he referred to as "the presidential people'' -- those seeking to challenge President Bush, who has repeatedly called for developing the refuge's oil.
Sens. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, John Kerry of Massachusetts and John Edwards of North Carolina are all strongly opposed to drilling in the refuge and are all running for president in 2004.
"Our bill would be dead because they would be delighted to kill the bill, any of the presidential people would take it on,'' said Domenici, during a 45-minute interview in his Senate office.
He emphasized that he has long believed in developing ANWR's oil and expressed amazement at the "political muscle'' of drilling opponents.
"The more I review ANWR, the more difficult it is for me to understand how it could have become such a big environmental issue -- but it has,'' mused Domenici.
Still, he said he is confident one day Congress will lift the ban on developing the millions of barrels of oil beneath the refuge's 1.5 million acre coastal plain.
"But that's for another day,'' he said. "It will happen. I'll still be a senator when it happens, but it won't happen right now.''
Even without the contentious Arctic refuge issue to contend with, Domenici expects some fireworks when the energy bill gets to the Senate floor shortly after Memorial Day.
There will be a debate about automobile fuel economy, he predicts, adding that Democrats aspiring to be president will ``stumble over each other trying to get'' more stringent automobile fuel economic requirements into the bill. Kerry and Lieberman led that charge last year, but failed.
And he expects some uproar over how much of a role federal regulators should have in electricity markets and management of power transmission systems. The draft Senate bill would give federal regulators additional clout in locating power lines, for example.
But Domenici said when the dust clears he thinks there will be enough things in the bill to make it hard to turn down.
--A requirements to use 5 billion gallons a year of ethanol in gasoline, double today's production and a boon to farmers.
--Signficiant tax breaks for renewable fuels including wind power.
--Exemptions for royalty payments to stimulate deep-well natural gas drilling.
--Repeal of a Depression-era law that limited activities of large electricity holding companies.
--Incentives for continued development of nuclear power.
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