Sparing ANWR Senate approves defense bill
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The Senate approved a $345 billion defense spending bill on Tuesday night, rejecting a controversial amendment that would have opened up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and gas drilling.

By a vote of 99 to 0, the Senate authorized funds for the Department of Defense and military spending at the Department of Energy. Earmarked for fiscal year 2002, which began on Monday, the money represents an 11 percent increase of $34.2 billion over last year's level.

Approving the package had been a top priority due to September 11's terrorist attacks. But there were fears the bill would be delayed by pro-drilling advocates seeking to force the Senate into debating energy policy.

Last week, Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska), the ranking Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, was threatening to stall Senate action. "I am prepared to hold up normal legislative business to get an energy bill to the floor," he said.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) wanted to go a step further and have the defense bill include ANWR provisions. In an opinion piece published in The Washington Times yesterday, he said drilling in the refuge was not just an energy issue but a national security one.

"My purpose is not to block the necessary defense bill, but rather to advance a similarly necessary energy security measure," he argued. Arguments against drilling in ANWR are "out-of-date and out of touch with reality," he continued.

As the day wore on, however, action on energy never occurred. Lawmakers like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a member of the Armed Forces Committee, urged fellow members to act in a spirit of national unity.

"I'm worried that in a few minutes, the Senate may undo all that good work of the past three weeks, and bring an end to the bipartisan cooperation that has distinguished this institution, and give the public a reason to be ashamed of us," said McCain.

The message appeared to have worked. In the early afternoon, the Senate by unanimous consent agreed to advance the defense bill, as Majority Leader Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) called a vote to limit debate.

By that time, Inhofe had softened his stance. "There is nobody on this floor who wants to have a defense authorization bill more than I do," he said.

Among those who have opposed development is the Gwich'in Nation, who fear drilling will disturb the Porcupine caribou herd on which they subsist. Assurances by Secretary of Interior Gale Norton and others that development can occur in an environmentally sensitive way have not swayed their position.

Inupiat Eskimos who own land in ANWR's coastal plain, the area targeted for development, have supported drilling. They predict financial and other benefits should the land be opened up.

The House has already approved a comprehensive energy bill that allows exploration in 2,000 acres of ANWR. Senate leaders have given no indication on when the chamber would consider its own version of the bill.

Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), 98, did not vote yesterday. After collapsing on the Senate floor, the oldest member of Congress was taken to an area hospital, and is said to be doing fine.

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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