(CNSNews.com) - Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle Wednesday blocked further consideration of a major energy bill, after it looked like the Energy and Natural Resources Committee would approve a plan to drill in Alaska's National Wildlife Refuge.
Most Democrats and environmentalists don't want that to happen (pristine wilderness! rapacious oil companies!).
But as some poiticians and pundits point out, oil supply looms as a serious national security issue -- now more than ever.
In an op-ed in Thursday's Washington Post, economist Robert Samuelson notes that the US-led attack on Afghanistan could trigger "disastrous" changes in oil-producing countries - the collapse of the Saudi regime, for instance.
The rise of Islamic fundamentalism is seen as a threat to every moderate Arab government out there.
Even if the U.S. avoids a massive oil cutoff now, the threat will remain. Says Samuelson, "We need to make it harder for them (Middle Eastern oil producers) to use the oil weapon and take steps to protect ourselves if it is used."
Samuelson proposes four steps to make the US less dependent on outside sources of oil: They include raising vehicle fuel-economy standards; imposing a gasoline or energy tax to encourage oil conservation; relaxing restrictions against domestic drilling; and expanding the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which currently contains 541 million barrels - about half of its capacity.
(Samuelson comments, "The failure to increase the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in the Clinton years was astonishingly shortshighted.")
The American way of life depends on reliable sources of oil, he says, and unless we can reduce the world's dependence on oil from the Persian Gulf, we put that way of life at risk.
Alaska Sen. Frank Murkowski (R), an ardent supporter of exploratory drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, was very upset about Daschle's move to bottle up a vote on the energy bill.
"Several members of the other side don't want a vote on ANWR because they know they would lose," he told reporters Wednesday.
Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo) also blasted Daschle for bottling up the energy bill. The Washington Post quoted him as saying that a national energy policy "is now a national security issue."
The House approved ANWR drilling in August, with the encouragement of the Teamsters Union and the Bush administration - unaccustomed allies, in this particular case. Both the union and the administration continue to push for ANWR drilling.