ANWR clears more hurdles
Bills that would open the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling advanced on parallel tracks in both houses of Congress Nov. 3, though storm clouds may be gathering in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Early in a daylong session, the U.S. Senate defeated a motion, 51-48, to strike ANWR drilling language from S. 1932, the Deficit Reduction Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 2005.
Minutes later, the senators approved an amendment, 83-16, that imposes an export ban on oil produced in ANWR.
The votes, significant hurdles for the ANWR legislation, followed more than two days of debate on the Senate budget package.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who sponsored the anti-ANWR drilling amendment, argued that the nation “wants a better energy bill than a sweetheart deal for the oil companies in ANWR.”
Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., hailed defeat of the amendment as “a victory for the taxpayer and the consumer.”
The proposed export ban, sponsored by Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Jim Talent, R-Mo., arose from concerns that oil producers would ship ANWR oil to the highest bidder, arguably Asian countries, especially oil-hungry China.
Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said he opposed the amendment in principle, but would vote for it, provided its language did not violate Senate rules that would threaten ANWR drilling in the overall budget package.
“Today’s accomplishment is a big one for Alaska … We are at the point where this bill can now go to Conference, must survive the House, and eventually, we hope, get to the President,” Stevens said later in a statement.
Meanwhile, the House Budget Committee completed markup Nov. 3 of budget reconciliation legislation with provisions drafted by Resources Chairman Richard W. Pombo, R-Calif., including ANWR drilling.
The House budget reconciliation bill would save the federal government $53.9 billion over five years by cutting mandatory spending programs and producing new revenue streams. ANWR, offshore drilling, the sale of certain public lands and other provisions were included in the Resources Committee’s $3.7 billion revenue-enhancing package.
House Budget Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, singled out ANWR Nov. 2 as one issue that could derail the entire House budget reconciliation bill.
“I’m concerned about that,” Nussle told reporters, putting ANWR among three hurdles facing the bill.
Moderate House Republicans are urging House leaders to remove environmentally sensitive provisions - including language to allow drilling in ANWR and protected coastal waters - from the bill.
The GOP lawmakers leaning toward opposing the deficit-cutting budget package include Reps. Sherwood Boehlert of New York, Vernon J. Ehlers of Michigan, Wayne T. Gilchrest of Maryland, Mark Steven Kirk of Illinois, and H. James Saxton of New Jersey. These Republicans first expressed their opposition to ANWR drilling in August and lately have been meeting to formulate a strategy to leverage their concerns with GOP leaders, Gilchrest said.
Negotiations also have included lawmakers concerned about spending cuts to health care and food stamp programs, Gilchrest told reporters Nov. 2. But no consensus has emerged yet, he added.
House Democratic leaders say their caucus is unified in opposition to the spending reduction bill, leaving Republicans with little margin to lose votes.
But it’s not over until it’s over, says pro-ANWR drilling lobbyist Roger Herrera, who has been working Capitol Hill in recent weeks. Until now, the 30 or so moderate Republicans expressing dissatisfaction with the budget reconciliation bill have been left to vote their own interests, according to Herrera.
“We are seeing signs that the House leadership’s focus is beginning to be quite concentrated on budget reconciliation, with ANWR in it,” Herrera told Petroleum News Nov. 2. “Traditionally, the leadership persuades members to vote in the best interest of the party rather than in their own interests. If the House leadership is working them, then the chances of them ‘voting correctly,’ from our point of view, is greatly enhanced.
“It’s going to be a cliffhanger, no doubt about it,” Herrera continued. “The race isn’t over. It’s one hurdle jumped at a time, but you continue to sprint toward the finish.”