Drilling Proponents Promise a New Fight Next Year

Supporters of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil drilling vowed to keep pressing next year after falling several votes short yesterday, but whether the debate can get any more emotional is less certain.

"This has been the saddest day of my life," said Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) on the floor last night, hours after his decades-long goal again faltered. Stevens was also upset by what he called unfair attacks on him by members who bitterly opposed his effort to include ANWR in a must-pass military funding bill.

A mostly Democratic filibuster blocked ANWR's inclusion in the fiscal year 2006 defense appropriations bill on a 56-44 vote -- a vote preceded by allegations that Stevens was abusing Senate rules by attaching ANWR to the defense measure. "Our military is being held hostage by this issue, Arctic drilling," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said.

Members in favor of cutting off the debate and ending the filibuster were three votes shy. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) switched his vote for procedural reasons, creating the 56-44 total when 60 votes were needed to break a filibuster.

The failed midday cloture vote prompted several hours of negotiations, and members later adopted a resolution allowing them to subsequently pass a version of the defense bill late last night without the ANWR provision. The new version will go before the House's pro-forma session today.

The Senate is adjourned for the year, subject to the House passing the defense appropriations conference report with the Senate changes. The House had passed the version with ANWR early Monday.

Backers vow to try again

ANWR had originally been included in budget reconciliation legislation that cleared the Senate this year, but the effort was abandoned amid revolt by House GOP moderates, whose opposition was too much to overcome when combined with Democrats united against the spending cut bill for a host of reasons.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) -- the architect of this year's Arctic drilling budget strategy -- said yesterday he plans to try to include the provision in the fiscal year 2007 budget reconciliation package. Budget bills are not subject to filibuster.

"We have got to get it on a reconciliation bill with nothing else on it," Domenici told reporters just after the vote, promising to include ANWR once again when the reconciliation package is drafted in the spring. This year, the inclusion in the budget was just one of several controversial provisions, alongside cuts to health spending and other issues. The strategy of attaching it to the defense bill was hatched after it became apparent the House could not pass a reconciliation bill with Arctic development riding along.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), speaking to reporters last night, also pledged to try again. "It does not mean that we give up. Absolutely, positively not," she said. "We are working on the next chapter of ANWR."

"We will try whatever approach is out there. Maybe it will be another creative one," she said. Murkowski hopes to bring some Democrats to the refuge in coming months, saying she wants to make the issue less heated. Right now, she said, conversations are difficult.

"Quite honestly, with many of my colleagues, I can't have a conversation with them about it -- it is such a symbolic issue that we can't speak to the merits of it," Murkowski said.

Opponents of refuge drilling are also bracing for further fights. "ANWR remains a very close and very tough vote, and clearly we will face ANWR as we go forward. We have been arguing it for the 21 years I have been here and it is not going to go away tomorrow," said Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass).

Melinda Pierce of the Sierra Club said it was a good sign, however, that lawmakers were not able to pass refuge drilling even with the "stars aligned," citing factors such as high energy prices and others that drilling advocates have used to bolster their case. "It is going to be a long time before he [Stevens] tries to use some of these must-pass measures to get it through," she said, adding that members may be "tired of that."

LIHEAP, conservation money gone; $29 billion Katrina package stays

Language on ANWR in the conference report -- now stricken -- would have funneled revenues into a variety of Gulf Coast restoration projects for states affected by the hurricanes, as well as agricultural conservation and wetlands programs. Also gone with these provisions is $2 billion in low-income home energy assistance funding that was in the bill (E&E Daily, Dec. 19).

Stevens said repeatedly yesterday that his ANWR provision was also part of an effort to help the Gulf Coast.

Still in the bill is the $29 billion Hurricane Katrina aid package, as well as a 1 percent across-the-board cut for nearly all discretionary programs. The bill includes funding increases for storm

recovery for a host of energy and environment-related agencies ( E&E Daily, Dec. 19)

The vote

Yesterday's vote saw five of the seven GOP members who oppose drilling nonetheless support the effort to block the filibuster against the defense bill. Sens. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.) and Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) voted against cutting off debate.

The three Democrats who openly back refuge drilling -- Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) -- voted for cloture on the bill, along with Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.)

Failure by drilling advocates to win over Democrats who were considered potential swing votes, such as Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), left supporters three votes shy of the support they needed. "I am so proud of our membership today. We stood together at critical moments," said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), discussing both the ANWR vote and the six-month Patriot Act extension agreed to yesterday. Democrats and a handful of GOP members backed extension over the White House and GOP leadership's support for a Patriot Act reauthorization plan that Democrats say fails to protect civil liberties. The extension allows more time to negotiate.

'In the temple'

Yesterday's debate produced several dramatic and personal exchanges -- including one between Stevens and Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) about the integrity of the institution. The two have 83 years of Senate service between them. Byrd and other drilling opponents were upset that Stevens had both added the drilling measure to the defense appropriations conference report and were prepared to fight procedural challenges alleging Senate rule violations.

Byrd, just across the aisle from Stevens, said he considered Stevens a dear friend. "I love him. I admire his unyielding commitment to the people of his state," Byrd said. But from there, he attacked Steven's effort. "My concern is with the rules of the Senate and how the rules are being threatened by what has been unfolding in recent days," Byrd said. "We abandon and undermine these rules at a terrible price."

Stevens and other drilling backers were prepared to fight a point of order alleging the drilling measure violated the Senate's Rule 28, which does not allow inclusion of new material in conference that was not in either chamber's bill. ANWR drilling advocates would have recommended overturning the rule of the chair on the point of order, but the successful filibuster meant it never got that far.

But before the cloture vote, Stevens defended his devotion to the Senate. "We are in the temple. I have lived in the temple for 37 years," he said, later adding, "I have never violated the rules. I have lived by the rules." Later still in his floor speech, he said to Byrd, "I do not believe I deserved that speech on the rules."

Nonetheless, after the vote, Kerry and others emphasized the cloture vote victory was as much about process as the endlessly debated merits -- or lack thereof -- of opening ANWR. "It was a victory for people who stood up against an abuse of the system, against a power move that was just unacceptable," Kerry said.

Senior reporter Mary O'Driscoll contributed to this story.

Reprinted from E&E Daily with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net . 202/628-6500.