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Senate Republicans Drop Alaska Wildlife Refuge From Energy Discussions

July 10, 2008

WASHINGTON _ Senate Republicans have dropped the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from their energy policy discussions, focusing instead on persuading Democrats to lift a moratorium on offshore drilling.

It’s a move that has angered Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, a longtime standard-bearer for drilling in ANWR who has vowed to put the issue back in front of his Senate colleagues.

“It’s not off my table,” Stevens said. “Unless you include Alaska in an energy solution, it’s a non-solution.”

Both the House and the Senate are considering legislation to help rein in gasoline prices but have failed to make any significant progress. The two chambers are considering a number of different proposals, including legislation that clamps down on speculation in commodities markets, which is suspected of forcing prices upward for consumers.

Other proposals include a push by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to have President Bush release fuel from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to increase supply and, theoretically, lower prices at the pump.

Recently, some Democrats in the Senate have suggested they might support lifting the moratorium on offshore drilling. It’s a shift that could lead to a compromise energy bill that satisfies Republicans who want more production, but also pleases Democrats who want it to focus on conservation and tax breaks for alternative and renewable energy proposals.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said she too was “disappointed” that fellow Republicans won’t be pushing ANWR as they press forward with legislation to address high gasoline prices.

Murkowski said she favors a balanced energy bill that includes production, conservation and research into renewable and alternative fuels. And if the Senate comes up with a compromise bill that includes offshore drilling and some of those other goals, she would consider supporting it.

Senate Republican leaders say they remain supportive of drilling in ANWR but that now is not the time, when both parties are looking for a compromise that will help consumers. Democrats have told them they simply won’t consider it, said Don Stewart, a spokesman for the Republican minority leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

It’s a far different matter in the House, where U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, has a separate bill calling for drilling in ANWR. He has the support of top Republicans who consider ANWR “a big component of a broad, comprehensive strategy,” said Kevin Smith, a spokesman for the House minority leader, Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio.

“We will use every opportunity at our disposal to force a vote on ANWR and get Democrats on record as anti-American energy production,” Smith said.

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(c) 2008, Anchorage Daily News (Anchorage, Alaska).

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