The Senate takes a step for US energy supply

March 18, 2005
The US on Mar. 16 took the first step in what could be a long hike toward a needed increase in domestic energy supply.

Bob Tippee

The US on Mar. 16 took the first step in what could be a long hike toward a needed increase in domestic energy supply.

The Senate voted 51-49 against a proposal to exclude from budget legislation a provision for oil and gas leasing of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Coastal Plain. Attachment of ANWR to the budget resolution protects a leasing initiative against filibuster, which would require an unattainable 60 votes to halt.

The vote is just one among many precarious steps to ANWR leasing. The Senate passed its budget bill without adopting spending cuts sought by the administration. The conflict will complicate reconciliation of the Senate measure with a House budget resolution lacking ANWR language. Although the House has supported ANWR leasing in the past, the measure will be vulnerable in the reconciliation fight.

So that two-vote margin looks thin. And to environmental groups, the vote was a call to arms.

"This obviously is a disappointment, but many hurdles remain before the budget is adopted and signed into law," said the Sierra Club, promising to "continue working at every step along the way to keep this pristine wilderness from being despoiled forever."

The Natural Resources Defense Council said, "There is still a lot of political tundra to cross before this fight is over."

And the National Wildlife Federation proclaimed, "There is a long way to go before the drill rigs roll into the Arctic Refuge."

These groups have prevailed until now by arguing that work on maybe 2,000 bleak acres would ruin all 19 million acres of ANWR and that the nearly 1 million b/d of oil the Coastal Plain might yield would represent insignificant supply.

They'll persist with this nonsense. If they lose the legislative battle they'll oppose leasing in court. They'll challenge permits. They'll obstruct operations any way possible.

It will be years before the US knows how much oil and gas it can expect from ANWR, if any. It will be even longer before any of that possible supply reaches markets.

But the Senate vote represents political attention to energy supply¿oil, no less. That's progress.

(Author's e-mail: [email protected])