For the second year in a row, President Bush made a national energy policy one of the priorities in his State of the Union address, and Washington correspondent Jeff Young reports that ANWR is at the top of the energy bill wish list.
GELLERMAN: For the second year in a row, President Bush made a national energy policy one of the priorities in his State of the Union address, urging lawmakers to pass the energy bill that has languished in Congress since 2001.
BUSH: Four years of debate is enough. I urge Congress to pass legislation that makes America more secure and less dependent on foreign energy. (APPLAUSE)
GELLERMAN: Among the items on the president's wish list for energy is the desire to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR for short. It's become something of an environmental battle royale and here to discuss it with us is Living on Earth's Washington correspondent Jeff Young. Hi, Jeff.
YOUNG: Hi, Bruce.
GELLERMAN: This debate over drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, it's been around, it's been defeated three times, I don't get it. Three strikes, you're out. How come this bill keeps coming back?
YOUNG: Well, they're hoping to get some leverage, that is, the pro-drillers think they can get more mileage out of the newly-expanded Republican majority, especially in the Senate where they think they've picked up four pro-drilling votes in last year's elections.
And, also, they feel momentum from this push from the president to increase the domestic energy supply and cut down on imports. I spoke with Alaska's Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski about that and she says that if we want to do that, that's going to mean getting more oil out of Alaska, and ANWR.
MURKOWSKI: We have been delivering oil to the rest of country now from Alaska's North Slope for 30 years and we have been doing it with an environmental record that is stellar. We believe that we can do the same with ANWR. So, we are very concerned that we do this right and we are very certain that we can do it environmentally sound.
GELLERMAN: Of course, the opponents disagree with that. They say this is a calving ground for caribou and migratory birds use this. But this time, Jeff, the opposition, they've got a really tough fight on their hands.
YOUNG: Well, their numbers are reduced, but they're not giving up, by any means. In fact, I'd say they've stepped up their opposition here. Connecticut Democrat Joe Lieberman introduced a bipartisan bill in the Senate calling for full wilderness protection for the refuge. And, as far as this notion of using ANWR to sort of wean us off of foreign oil--Lieberman told a rally on the Capitol grounds that according to one study, the oil from ANWR would cut our imports by only about two percent.
LIEBERMAN : Let me ask you this question. Is that two percent worth forever
losing one of the most beautiful wild places in America and the world? (crowd: NO!) That's the right answer.
YOUNG: And Lieberman's argument is that we'd do a lot more to reduce foreign oil by conserving, instead.
GELLERMAN: Well, the oil companies must really be pushing for this. I mean, oil's, what, bumping around 50 bucks a barrel now?
YOUNG: Well, you'd think that, wouldn't you? But there's this odd trend afoot where some of the major oil companies that stand to benefit most seem to be losing interest in the lobbying effort to open up ANWR. Conoco Phillips last month rather quietly pulled out of the main pro-drilling lobbying group, called Arctic Power. BP, another company, had already given up on that group and that leaves just Exxon Mobil to lobby for access to ANWR.
GELLERMAN: So, wait, companies that would reap the profits from drilling in the refuge are no longer lobbying for access? What's going on?
YOUNG: Well, that's what I asked Fadel Gheit about this. Fadel Gheit is an energy analyst with the brokerage firm, Oppenheimer & Co. And, he says as these oil companies get bigger and bigger, the gains from something like ANWR look smaller because they can go do business somewhere else.
GHEIT: So, basically, you know, they are saying that we spent all this time and effort and all we got is a black eye and we don't need that. We don't need a bad public image.
YOUNG: In a word, precedent. Winning here in ANWR could pave the way for more access to oil and gas drilling in other protected areas. Or, at least, that's what the drilling opponents like Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California think is going on.
BOXER: You can't have a wildlife refuge and drill in it. And, what we're very worried about is if you do it here, then what about all the other wildlife refuges? They're gonna be next.
GELLERMAN: Hmm. So, Jeff, how's this likely to play out in Congress this time?
YOUNG: Oh, that's the big question. The real battle is in the Senate, where drilling opponents can still mount a filibuster. The pro-drillers are looking for a way to win this on a simple majority vote. They might be able to do that by attaching something to a budget resolution. So, I'd say watch the budget and those talks start any day now as the president sends his budget up to the hill.
GELLERMAN: Follow the money, huh, Jeff?
YOUNG: That's always good advice, I think.
GELLERMAN: Thanks a lot. Jeff Young is Living on Earth's Washington correspondent. Jeff, thank you.
YOUNG: You're welcome.
GELLERMAN: Coming up, an expedition to the fourth world. Keep listening to Living on Earth.
[MUSIC: Alison Brown "The Red Earth" A World Instrumental Collection (Putomayo) 1996]
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