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Senate Heads Back Down Controversial Road to Arctic Refuge Drilling


March 17 , 2006, Washington, D.C. -- The Senate voted last night to once again include drilling revenues from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the federal budget, despite their defeat on a similar measure just months ago. Ignoring warnings about America’s oil addiction, a recent oil spill just to the west of the Arctic Refuge, and staunch opposition to sneaking the controversial provision into the budget, the Senate voted 51-49 in favor of the Budget Resolution which includes a speculative $3 billion to the federal treasury from Arctic drilling. The House, where Arctic drilling was blocked just last year, has yet to act on a budget this year.

“We deeply regret that some Senators are still willing to do Big Oil’s bidding, and we now turn to the House where the Arctic drilling scheme should be dead on arrival,” said Carl Pope, Sierra Club Executive Director. “Americans are clamoring for a clean Congress and a clean energy plan, but sadly they were shortchanged on both today.”

In a move to limit debate and opposition, drilling-obsessed politicians like Senator Stevens (R-AK) and Pete Domenici (R-NM) -- aided by Budget Chairman Judd Gregg (R-NH) -- are trying to sidestep the normal Senate rules by making this an “Arctic only” budget bill: the only instruction Sen. Gregg sent was to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

“By using the budget bill primarily as a vehicle for Arctic Refuge drilling, the Senate has dropped any pretense of working to balance the budget or reduce the deficit,” said Pope. “The Senate is treating the budget process as a joke and a special interest gravy boat.”

As the Senate voted on whether to let the oil industry in to the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, BP workers in Alaska scrambled to contain a 200,000 gallon oil spill that went undetected for days. The spill, now widely reported as the largest crude oil spill in the history of the North Slope, casts doubt on the oil industry’s assurances of safe and clean technology.

“Blind to the dangers of oil drilling and what it could mean for wildlife and Alaska natives, advocates of Arctic drilling maniacally push forward,” said Pope. “The only winner in this equation is the oil industry. The losers are the American people who could lose a pristine wilderness, perhaps to a fate similar to the oil-stained Prudhoe Bay.”

The next step is the Senate Energy Committee which will craft legislation to authorize opeing the Arctic Refuge to oil drilling. That language will be folded into the overall Budget Reconciliation bill which must be passed by the entire Senate. The Senate will then have to conference its version with the House which has not yet taken up a budget resolution this year. The conference report is then subject to a straight up or down vote in both the House and Senate.

Last year, a similar attempt failed to pass the House of Representatives where objections from moderate Republicans forced leadership to strip Arctic drilling language from a larger budget package. In a desperate move, Senator Stevens attached Arctic drilling to a defense spending bill, a move that was repudiated by the Senate.

“We thank those Senators, both Republican and Democrat, who stood firm against tremendous pressure from the Bush administration, pro-drilling members of Congress and their allies in the oil industry,” said Pope. “They recognize that the budget is an inappropriate place to decide controversial national policy matters like America’s energy policy. We urge all members of Congress to remain steadfast in their belief that the vast, unspoiled wilderness of America’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is more than a line item in the Federal Budget.”

We can start saving oil today and curb global warming by making our cars go farther on a gallon of. Using existing fuel-saving technology, we could save more oil by increasing fuel economy than we currently import from the entire Persian Gulf and could ever get out of the Arctic Refuge, combined. The technology also exists to develop renewable energy sources like wind and solar power while boosting energy efficiency.

“We need an honest, balanced energy plan that gives us cleaner, cheaper and safer energy solutions and protects spectacular wild places like the Arctic Refuge and America’s fragile coasts,” said Pope.

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