Alaska drilling supporters to include Israeli aid in bill
CNN Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Facing an uphill battle against strong Democratic opposition, proponents of allowing oil exploration in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will try to add new U.S. help for Israel in an effort to attract more votes for the controversial measure.
The Senate began debate Tuesday on a proposal to allow oil exploration in ANWR, a key part of President Bush's energy plan.
The measure, sponsored by Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, is an amendment to a larger energy bill now being considered by the Senate. It would allow oil exploration on a maximum of 2,000 acres of the refuge, located within a 1.5 -million-acre area along the coastal plain of northeast Alaska.
With Democrats promising a filibuster, supporters will have to muster 60 votes to pass the proposal -- a hurdle Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, an opponent of ANWR drilling, predicted they will not be able to overcome.
"I have said for a long time that the votes for ANWR are not there. They will be lucky to get 50, much less 60. That is one issue we feel strongly about," said Daschle, D-South Dakota, who said Democrats, who hold 50 of the Senate's 100 seats, are "virtually unanimous" in their opposition.
But in an attempt to prove Daschle wrong, Murkowski has crafted language that will tie ANWR exploration to Israeli aid.
Under the amendment, Israel would be exempt from a ban on exporting any oil from ANWR. The measure would also extend for another 10 years a pact that promises U.S. assistance if Israel's oil supply is disrupted, which is now set to expire in 2004.
Late last week, Murkowski and his fellow Alaska Republican, Sen. Ted Stevens, tried to reach an agreement with senators from steel-producing states that would have earmarked some of the money generated by ANWR oil leases to pay the benefits of retired workers from bankrupt steel companies.
Though that deal fell through, Stevens went ahead and introduced the steel provision Tuesday, hoping that it will be difficult for senators from steel-producing states to vote against it.
Privately, supporters say their best hope may be to get at least 51 votes for ANWR exploration to show that a majority of senators support it, even if they fall short of the 60 votes necessary to end the Democrats' filibuster.
That could be important because the House has included ANWR exploration in its energy bill, which means that the issue may go to a House-Senate conference committee for consideration, even if it is defeated in the Senate. Supporters believe they will have a stronger hand in conference if they can show most senators support ANWR drilling.
Proponents of ANWR exploration insist it will help reduce oil imports, which they say is important for both economic and national security. They also say it will generate new jobs.
"We have to have more oil and gas. We have to have it here domestically. As you look at what has been happening in Venezuela and the Middle East, the comments in Iraq by Saddam Hussein, clearly we have to be concerned about our continued ... oil supply," said Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi.
But critics, including many Democrats and environmental groups, say it will cause irreparable damage to land and wildlife in the pristine refuge. They argue that the best way to reduce oil imports is to increase fuel efficiency standards so less oil is needed.
"These are sensitive lands that deserve the special attention -- the kind of care and respect that our country has afforded it for a long time," said Daschle.
In attempt to counter assertions that ANWR drilling will be destructive, Murkowski's proposal includes seasonal limits on exploration to protect migrating animals and requires the use of "best commercial available technology" to minimize environmental damage.
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