WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats, joined by a handful of Republicans, including Maine’s Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, on Wednesday blocked an attempt by the Bush administration to allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Senators pushing for ANWR drilling, including both senators from Alaska, insisted that drilling in Alaska would generate enough oil to loosen U.S. dependency on foreign oil markets. They also said that drilling would generate thousands of jobs.
The legislators who supported the ban argued that the environmental impact of Arctic drilling would not be worth the small amount of oil that the refuge could supply.
Republicans had added an oil drilling provision to a budget bill expected to be passed later this week. But Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California offered an amendment to scrap the provision, which was passed 52-48.
All but five Democrats voted against drilling, but eight Republicans, including Snowe and Collins, bucked their party to support the Boxer amendment.
Vice President Dick Cheney made a special trip to Capitol Hill to make a last-minute effort to convince wavering Republicans to vote against the amendment and for drilling.
“It’s a cold hard fact: the United States uses about 25 percent of the world’s oil, but only possesses 3 percent of the world’s known oil reserves,” said Collins in a statement. “If we start drilling in ANWR, our largest remaining domestic oil reserve, we would do almost nothing to decrease our reliance on foreign oil.”
Collins called for a balanced energy policy that “protects the environment, increases energy efficiency and promotes renewable energy.”
Snowe said in a statement that drilling for more domestic oil is not the best way to end U.S. dependence on foreign markets. Instead, she suggested, Congress should focus on legislation that sets new standards for fuel efficiency, such as the bill she introduced last month that would require SUVs and light trucks to meet the same fuel-efficiency standards as other cars.
“Our nation cannot rely on domestic oil production as the keystone of an energy policy, given that the United States consumes 25 percent of the world’s oil supply but produces just 3 percent of the world’s oil supply,” she said.
The ANWR fight isn’t over yet, and the House still may take up the issue according to a spokesman for an environmental group opposing Alaskan oil exploration.
Dan Lavery of the Sierra Club said legislators who support drilling in the Arctic refuge have tried to attach the issue to bills on airlines and transportation safety and now to the budget, and are not likely to stop pushing.
The refuge is a 1.5 million-acre coastal plain, which is home to 130,000 caribou, 180 bird species, grizzly bears, wolves and many other animals, Lavery said, adding that drilling would be “devastating” to the wildlife in the area as well as to the American Indian tribes who live there.
“The most basic reason we’re opposed to this legislation is that it’s a six-month supply of oil that wouldn’t be available for 10 years,” Lavery said. “It’s not part of a long-term energy solution.”