(CNSNews.com) - A research institute in Washington, D.C., is calling Wednesday's vote by the Senate not to open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil exploration a "big blow to energy independence," but an organization that promotes the preservation of wildlife habitat hailed the decision as a "hard-won environmental victory."
"ANWR is important not only for the oil it could provide, but for the precedent it would set," said H. Sterling Burnett, a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis. "With oil selling for more than $50 per barrel, drilling on other public lands could contribute billions of barrels of oil that currently are off limits to drilling.
"ANWR should have received an up-or-down vote," Burnett stated. "But political maneuvering by Senate Democrats beholden to environmental lobbyists has once again prevented that."
The Senate voted on Wednesday to reject an amendment from Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) attaching oil exploration in the Refuge to the Defense Appropriations bill, Burnett said, continuing a trend the chamber has maintained over several years even though the Clinton administration argued that such drilling could be done in an environmentally friendly manner.
In fact, he noted, a 1980 law that doubled the size of ANWR to 19 million acres expressly permitted Congress to develop a process through which exploration and production could proceed.
At the time, President Jimmy Carter hailed the bill as a great compromise that "strikes a balance between protecting areas of great beauty and value and allowing development of Alaska's vital oil, gas, mineral and timber resource."
"ANWR is estimated to contain between 6 and 16 billion barrels of economically recoverable oil," Burnett added. "And there is no indication that indigenous wildlife would be harmed or hindered in any way, especially since they have flourished along the North Slope and Prudhoe Bay."
However, representatives of the green group Earthjustice called Wednesday's decision "a hard-won environmental victory for every American who cares about protecting Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge."
"Today's vote means the Arctic Refuge will remain a spectacular, unique haven for wildlife," said Sarah Wilhoite, legislative associate for Earthjustice. "Americans have made it clear that they want the Refuge protected, and today, the Senate clearly heard them."
The Arctic Refuge provides crucial habitat for polar bears, wolves and the Porcupine caribou herd, which travels thousands of miles to raise calves on the rich forage found in the refuge's Coastal Plain, Wilhoite stated.
These reindeer-like animals form the basis of the traditional subsistence lifestyle of the native Gwich'in people, who call the Coastal Plain "the place where life begins," she added.
"The Senate chose to protect the native people and abundant wildlife that depend on the Arctic Refuge," said Marty Hayden, Earthjustice's vice president for policy. "I believe Sen. Stevens would tear down Santa's workshop and kick out his elves and reindeer if he thought there might be oil under the North Pole."
Hayden stated that the amendment failed "because enough senators recognized it would be a national shame to forever spoil this pristine treasure to satisfy America's thirst for oil.
"The government's own studies show the refuge contains less than a year's supply of oil, such a tiny amount that it would only have reduced gas prices by a penny -- and not until the year 2025," he noted.
"Drilling proponents couldn't pass this misguided measure in a stand-alone bill, so they tried to blackmail the Senate into passing it, using money for our troops as bait," said Earthjustice Executive Director Buck Parker. "To their credit, the Senate's Arctic champions saw through this underhanded scheme and refused to play along."
Earthjustice has vowed to remain vigilant against any attempts to open the Arctic Refuge to oil drilling. "Despite numerous defeats, supporters of drilling seem unwilling to let this bad idea die," said Parker.
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