US Senate to vote on House-passed energy bill that includes ANWR

Several labor unions Monday urged US senators not to consider a Republican energy amendment that proindustry lawmakers want attached to a pending railroad retirement bill. Senate proponents of leasing the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge say they still lack the 60 votes needed to shut off a potential filibuster.

By the OGJ Online Staff

WASHINGTON, DC, Dec. 3 -- Several labor unions Monday urged the US Senate not to consider a Republican energy amendment that proindustry lawmakers want attached to a pending railroad retirement bill in a vote later today.

"Please continue to support moving the Railroad Retirement bill to final passage and to oppose all amendments," the unions told lawmakers. The groups included the Seafarers International Union, the International Association of Machinists, the Transport Workers Union, and the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers.

Congressional sources said it appears likely the vote will fail: Senate leasing proponents concede they still lack the 60 votes needed to shut off a potential filibuster of the legislation.

Citing a crowded legislative calendar, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) said last week energy reform legislation would not be considered for floor debate until early next year. Daschle said he wanted to give lawmakers more time to debate the legislation, still stalled over the question of whether the government should lease part of the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for exploration.

A new Democratic energy proposal expected later this week from Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (R-NM) will not include an ANWR provision. Congress will leave for a month-long recess in mid-December and lobbyists expect the Monday vote to be the last time energy reform legislation is addressed for the year.

The energy bill that passed the Republican-controlled House in August, HR 4, includes ANWR drilling. It also has $34 billion in energy tax breaks and incentives over a 10-year period, with $8 billion specifically earmarked for independent oil producers. Most Republicans, and some Democrats, supported that measure, thanks in part to an unusual bipartisan coalition of industry and labor interests led by the Teamsters Union.

But since the House passed its bill, energy prices fell and the California power crisis abated. That in turn has weakened the political resolve to move forward on legislation, congressional sources said. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks helped pro-ANWR drilling lawmakers like Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-Alas.) briefly gain media attention on using ANWR as a way to reduce oil imports, but their efforts to persuade the Senate have been unsuccessful.

The debate has cut across traditional party lines.

Although usually seen as a liberal Democratic constituency, the Teamsters Union has been hoping it can recreate the success it had in the House by arguing ANWR is needed to create thousands of jobs. Some senior citizen and veterans groups also support leasing. But environmentalists, including some Republicans, argue that opening ANWR will not open as many jobs as industry argues and will not stabilize energy prices.

"The amendment is a cynical, shameful ploy to force through a divisive proposal by piggybacking it onto an unrelated bill," said REP America, a Republican environmental group.

"In short, HR 4 is a goodie bag for special interests masquerading as energy policy. HR 4 violates traditional Republican principles -- fiscal responsibility, stewardship, and efficiency. It ought to be defeated."

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