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Senate rejects drilling for oil in Arctic

Caribou roam in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Caribou roam in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate defeated a measure Thursday to allow oil exploration in the Arctic Refuge, killing what Republicans call a central part of President Bush's plan to revamp America's energy policy.

By a vote of 46 to 54, senators not only failed to overcome a Democratic-led filibuster, but also fell short of mustering the 51 votes needed to argue that the majority of the Senate supports drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

The amendment would have allowed no more than 2,000 acres within a 1.5 million-acre part of the refuge to be opened for exploration.

Although drilling in ANWR passed the House and therefore will still be part of the House-Senate negotiations over energy reform legislation, the vote Thursday makes it unlikely to pass the Senate at any point.

Before taking the vote, the amendment's chief sponsor, Sen. Frank Murkowski, Republican-Alaska, said drilling in ANWR would not harm the wildlife there and said environmental groups had waged a war of misinformation.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is the focus of passionate debate pitting environmental advocates against the U.S. oil industry. CNN's Mark Potter reports (April 17)

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But Democrats argued against disrupting what they call one of the few parts of the United States untouched by technology.

"I contend the development would do irreversible damage to this national treasure," said Sen. Joe Lieberman, Democrat-Connecticut.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, Democrat-South Dakota, tried to make political point in a meeting with reporters.

"We are just not going to allow Republicans to destroy the environment. And that's exactly what this issue's been all about, from the very beginning. Whether or not you protect the environment, whether or not you send a clear message that when it comes to protecting sensitive lands in this country, you're going to do it or not," said Daschle.

Drilling for truth

Proponents of drilling in ANWR have argued for years that it is essential to helping wean the United States of its dependence on foreign oil, calling it an issue of national security.

"Is no one awake to the fact that we have problems in the Middle East, that we have a growing dependence on oil, that there are profound national security implications of producing as much oil as we will import from Saudi Arabia in the next 30 years, on 200,00 acres of land in a state with 317 million acres," asked Sen. Phil Gramm, Republican-Texas.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (left) and Sen. John Kerry are some of the Democrats who have vowed to use every parliamentary maneuver to block the Arctic drilling proposal.  

But opponents said no one knows how much oil would be found in Alaska.

"The truth is, their projections indicate whether or not ANWR is opened or is not opened for drilling and production, by the year 2030 it is all gone and we are 75 percent dependent on foreign sources of oil," said Sen. Jeff Bingaman, Democrat-New Mexico.

ANWR supporters had also formed an alliance with labor organizations to argue allowing drilling would also create thousands of U.S. jobs.

Republicans had tried to lure senators with various deals on outside issues. One such measure was offered by Sen. Ted Stevens, Republican-Alaska, to use royalties from the lease of ANWR to help pay benefits for retired steel workers, in the hopes of wooing steel state senators. That vote failed 36-64.

Proponents also added provisions intended to help Israel, like exempting that country from a ban on exporting Alaskan oil.


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