Senate Democrats offering ANWR compromise
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With President Bush pushing the Senate to approve an energy bill that keeps America safe, Democrat leaders are offering a compromise that could quickly end debate over drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Although he noted discussions are preliminary, Majority Leader Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) on Friday said he was willing to bring the controversial issue to the Senate floor. If Republicans agree to consider on an alternative to drilling -- an equally contentious and costly natural gas pipeline -- he said he would allow a vote on ANWR.

"If we need to tap into the resources of Alaska, let's do it with this pipeline," Daschle told reporters at his daily press briefing. "Let's not go into the most sensitive part of Alaska and wait 10 years to get a product."

But since the compromise would require Republicans to break a proposed Democratic filibuster with 60 votes, some lawmakers aren't accepting the offer with open arms. While he said it showed "progress," Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska), the chief proponent of Arctic drilling, called on Daschle to eliminate the filibuster condition.

"Why do we we need 60 votes to pass this?" questioned the ranking Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. "An energy bill that contains the most important new source of oil, ANWR, is certainly something that should not be filibustered."

"If [Daschle] wants to put a 60-vote requirement on an issue as important to national security as energy," he added, "each Senator is going to have to recognize his obligations to our national security as opposed to environmental extremists."

At an estimated cost of at least $18 billion, the pipeline is not an easy solution by any means. Although Congress has held testimony on the gas line, business leaders say it isn't financially viable right now.

The state of Alaska and the industry also disagree on a proposed method to bring gas from Alaska's North Slope to the lower 48, with Gov. Tony Knowles favoring a southern route that would bypass Canada. Nevertheless, Daschle says the project could create 400,000 jobs without sacrificing ANWR.

A pipeline is "a dramatic opportunity for us to help the economy, to do what we can to bring energy to the United States and do it in an environmentally safe way," Daschle said.

While lawmakers remain focused on anti-terrorism, Daschle is promising a vote on an energy bill before Congress adjourns at the end of the year. The House, with heavy lobbying from labor unions who favor expected jobs, has already passed a comprehensive package which allows for drilling in 2,000 acres of ANWR's North Slope.

Bush, in remarks to reporters last week, said the House legislation was a "good energy bill" and said the Senate should act in order to protect homeland security. "[I]t's important for our national security to have a good energy policy," he said.

Drilling is opposed by the Gwich'in Nation, whose members fear development would disturb the Porcupine caribou herd that resides in the refuge. The herd, which regularly calves in ANWR's coastal plain, represents their cultural, spiritual and food center.

Inupiat Eskimos who live next to the affected area overwhelmingly support drilling. They cite financial benefits for local residents and to the Inupiat-owned Arctic Slope Regional Corp.

Angering some Republicans, Daschle last week pulled an energy bill from a legislative panel that was near approving Arctic drilling.

Relevant Links:
Gwich'in Steering Committee -
Oil Issues in ANWR, US Fish and Wildlife -
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, US Fish and Wildlife Service -
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Pro-Development site -

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