The Senate has blocked a plan to drill for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a move that also stalled a $29-billion aid package for hurricane-damaged Gulf Coast states.
Advocates of opening the Alaska tract to energy exploration on Dec. 21 fell four votes short of the 60 needed to cut off a filibuster on a Defense Dept. spending bill to which the ANWR and hurricane relief provisions were attached.
After the vote, foes of the ANWR provision said they would support the rest of the bill if the oil drilling provision were deleted. But as of mid-afternoon, the next legislative move wasn't clear.
Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who inserted the ANWR language into the defense measure, argued that the energy provision was related to defense. He said, "Nothing is more germane and essential to national defense than energy. ANWR supports national security because it would unquestionably increase the national [energy] supply."
Both sides said they expected the ANWR issue to arise in Congress again. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) said he would work to include an ANWR drilling provision in next year's budget resolution. Domenici succeeded in including such language in this year's budget measure, which only requires a 51-vote requirement.
But GOP moderates in the House insisted on keeping the ANWR provision out of the final budget measure this year. Stevens transferred the oil drilling language to the defense bill, and was unable to meet the higher, 60-vote requirement.