Legislation to open Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling sailed through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Wednesday without a serious challenge.
The measure, approved 13-7, is designed to raise about $1.3 billion through leases in the refuge’s 1.5 million-acre coastal plain. Republican backers say the money is needed to help balance the federal budget by 2002.
The House Resources Committee approved similar legislation Tuesday after rejecting, 27-12, a Democratic amendment to keep the refuge closed to development.
The refuge is regarded by environmentalists as the most significant arctic ecosystem that hasn’t been spoiled by drilling. But the oil industry, citing its environmental record in nearby Prudhoe Bay, says the refuge’s potential oil riches can be exploited without any significant disturbance of wildlife.
The drilling provision now will be added to a massive budget measure to be worked out by the Republican-controlled Congress and sent to President Clinton in the next few weeks. The president has said he is opposed to opening the refuge, but the White House has not said whether the drilling provision alone would be enough for him to veto the budget bill.
The Senate’s development provision was written by Alaska Sen. Frank Murkowski, the energy committee chairman. It was backed by nine of the panel’s 11 Republican members and four of its nine Democrats.