Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - As the U.S. Senate prepared Wednesday to debate the nation's energy needs, environmental groups blasted the Republican plan to drill for oil in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge and said the White House lacked enough votes to win Senate passage of the measure.
The ANWR drilling provision appeared headed for passage in the Senate Energy Committee earlier this month until Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) yanked the entire bill from the committee and moved it directly to the Senate floor.
At the time, Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska), the ranking Republican on the Energy panel, said he had "never seen an instance where jurisdiction was pulled from a committee like this."
Daschle's move means the ANWR provision will now have to be introduced on the Senate floor as an amendment to the Democratic version of the energy bill and collect 60 votes.
Even the Bush administration's recent attempt to compromise and confine the oil drilling to only a third of the Arctic refuge's 1.5 million acres will fail, according to Jaime Rappaport Clark, senior vice president for conservation programs at the National Wildlife Federation
"It is clear that the White House and drilling proponents do not have the votes to open up the coastal plains, the Artic National Wildlife Refuge, to oil drilling," Clark said.
"They don't have the votes because the public and a number of open-minded senators recognize the irreparable harm that drilling would do to the wilderness character, to the wildlife value and to the environment of one of the most pristine places left on earth," Clark said.
She added that the region is "too wild to waste" and accused the Bush administration of taking last-minute steps "to exploit and wreck the refuge."
"They think they can pull it off by selling this drilling ploy as a balanced proposal. Let me tell you, from what I know, it is about as balanced as Enron's books," Clark said.
Among those supporting the ANWR proposal are officials of the Teamsters' Union, who argue that not only would oil drilling in the refuge reduce America's reliance on foreign oil but it would also produce thousands of high-paying jobs.
The Senate is scheduled to hear debate for several weeks before voting on a final version of the Kerry-Hollings bill, named for Democratic Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and Ernest Hollings of South Carolina. Republicans will try to install their provisions as amendments to the Kerry-Hollings bill.
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