ANWR battle moves to Senate, faces new challenges after House victory

| 12/20/2005

Fierce debate raged once again over a bill that would allow exploratory drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but its fate will most likely be decided in the Senate on Wednesday, Dec. 21.

On Tuesday morning – just five hours after the full House of Representatives voted 308-106 to approve it – the Senate began its debate over a $453 billion defense appropriations bill, which contained the controversial ANWR drilling language.

The approval of ANWR in the House was a major victory for Sen. Ted Stevens, R-AK, chairman of the Defense Appropriations subcommittee, who introduced the drilling language during a joint conference committee. Stevens had said that he would not vote in support of the appropriations unless ANWR was included in the package, according to The Associated Press.

However, the ANWR language will now face a new challenge. Opponents of the provision in the Senate are opposing its inclusion, citing Senate Rule 28, which says that conferees “shall not insert in their report matter not committed to them by either house,” which ANWR was not – making the entire bill up for challenge by any Senator, according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Stevens said that although he agreed with Rule 28, other rules – which he did not specify – allowed for its temporary waiver, making the ANWR language admittable.

“It’s not destroying the rule. It’s a disagreement,” Stevens told the News-Miner. “We shouldn’t have people saying we’re breaking the rules.”

In addition to ANWR, the bill – which first saw controversy after Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, lobbied to include in it an anti-torture measure – also provides money for Hurricane Katrina victims and bird flu precautions.

McCain and other moderates rebuked Stevens, saying the inclusion of ANWR in a defense bill put them in a lose-lose situation.

“There is something especially outrageous about the willingness of the majority party leadership to allow the Defense Department bill, in a time of war, to be held hostage to totally unrelated special interest items,” Rep. David Obey, D-WI, told The AP.

However, Stevens has claimed that Arctic drilling is a defense issue, since its success would raise an estimated $2.5 billion and could potentially reduce the U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

“I’m just doing my utmost to do my job, which is getting ANWR passed,” Stevens told the News-Miner. “I’ve waited 25 years now. I don’t have another 25 years.”