U.S. Senate Rejects Arctic Drilling Amendment

WASHINGTON, DC, October 3, 2001 (ENS) - The U.S. Senate passed the fiscal year 2002 Defense budget on Tuesday, after rejecting an attempt by Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma to attach a controversial energy package to the bill. The energy amendment would have opened a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and natural gas exploration.

Senator Inhofe tried to attach the House passed energy bill to the Defense Authorization bill to avoid additional debate on the controversial bill. The House version of the energy bill includes a provision to open the North Slope of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR to oil drilling.

Inhofe

Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe (Photo courtesy Office of the Senator)
The Senate had hurried to complete work on the 2002 Defense Authorization, which includes several important measures to boost the country's ability to resist terrorist threats. Inhofe's insistence upon the energy amendments derailed that legislation last week, forcing the Senate to invoke a procedure called cloture to end debate and move to consideration of the bill.

The Senate refused to add the energy provisions to the defense bill, saying the energy bill will have to be considered later in the Congressional session. The $343 billion defense bill (S 1438) eventually passed on a 99-0 vote.

Environmental groups expressed relief that the Senate opted against slipping the controversial energy legislation through as a rider on the must pass defense bill.

"We're thankful that the Senate is acknowledging that this fall is not the time to debate controversial energy policies, including drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge," said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. "In a unanimous vote, the Senate said that it would be inappropriate to exploit the tragedy our nation faces for personal political agendas or divisive issues. Our country must focus our attention now on issues of national security, personal safety and healing."

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Exploration rig in the Alaskan arctic (Two photos courtesy Arctic Power)
Drilling the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will not promote national security or develop stable and environmentally acceptable energy supplies because it would take a least 10 years to produce even a drop of oil, Pope said. Experts are unsure how much oil may lie beneath the pristine Arctic refuge.

"Energy policy is extremely important, but the only thing we would get by rushing this energy bill in the wake of our tremendous national tragedy would be a truly awful, unbalanced law, passed essentially without debate or examination by the Senate," said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife.

The safest and fastest way to increase America's energy security is to increase the energy efficiency of vehicles, homes, factories, offices and appliances, and to increase reliance on renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power, environmental groups argue.

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The Refuge contains millions of acres of fragile tundra habitat (Photo courtesy Arctic National Wildlife Refuge)
"A political bill that does little to address the nation's real energy needs is in no way a legitimate part of preparing the military for the challenges ahead," agreed Williams Meadows, president of The Wilderness Society.

Senator Inhofe and Alaska Frank Murkowski, a Republican, have vowed to keep promoting energy legislation that would open ANWR to drilling and provide the energy industry with $38 billion in subsidies, tax breaks and other financial incentives.

"This is a time for unity and bipartisanship, not political opportunism," said Schlickeisen. "On this vote, the Senate said loud and clear that despoiling the Arctic Refuge has nothing whatever to do with addressing our immediate national security needs."