Alaska's oil is crucial, senators say

GOP says Mideast turmoil is reason to drill in refuge

April 10, 2002|By COX NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - Senate Republicans seized upon the turmoil in the Middle East as an argument yesterday for President Bush's proposal to open a protected Alaskan wildlife refuge to oil exploration.

The turmoil has "increased the importance of moving an energy bill off the floor" of the Senate, said Republican Sen. Frank Murkowski of Alaska, the chief sponsor of Bush's plan to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling.

Senate Republicans held a news conference with several Jewish groups, including B'nai B'rith International and the American Jewish Congress, to promote drilling in ANWR during a "Holocaust Days of Remembrance Ceremony" in the Capitol Rotunda, featuring Bush national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

Chuck Brooks, a spokesman for the American Jewish Congress, said drilling in the refuge is now "a national security imperative" with Iraq's decision to suspend oil exports for the next 30 days.

But lacking the votes to pass the ANWR plan, Senate GOP leaders did nothing to bring the proposal to the floor yesterday and add it to the energy policy bill that has been under consideration since early March. Murkowski said he would bring it to the floor this week.

Amid constant Republican complaints about delays in passing the energy bill, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, explored ways for Democrats to bring up the ANWR proposal on their own in order to clear it out of the way and finish the energy bill as quickly as possible.

Daschle's plan was to narrow the hundreds of pending amendments to the energy bill to a handful, including the ANWR amendment.

"There are many in my caucus who would like to just bring it up ... to demonstrate that the votes aren't there so we can move on to complete the other 249 amendments," Daschle said. "We're hopeful that within the next 24 hours ... we can get on the ANWR issue so that it can be disposed of, so that we can complete our work on the bill."

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