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Posted on  

September 26, 2002

GOP looking for compromise on Alaskan refuge drilling

Thursday, September 26, 2002

By H. JOSEF HEBERT, Associated Press

WASHINGTON House Republicans are developing a scaled-back proposal for oil drilling in an Alaskan wildlife refuge, hoping to open the way for a compromise on broad energy legislation. Some Senate Democrats expressed no interest in a deal.

The future of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern Alaska is just one of the contentious disagreements that threaten the energy bill before Congress adjourns, probably in mid-October.

Among the other issues stymieing congressional negotiators are how much power to give federal regulators over the location of power lines, expansion of ethanol as a gasoline additive and energy tax breaks.

President Bush called key negotiators Wednesday to the White House in an attempt to get some progress on what would be the first overhaul of energy policy in a decade.

Bush wants to help lawmakers "come together and get an agreement," White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said.

Bush reiterated his view that the oil in the refuge should be developed for domestic energy needs, but he stopped short of threatening to veto legislation if it sidesteps the exploration issue, according to participants.

After the meeting, Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., chairman of the House-Senate conference, said he was hopeful a compromise over the refuge might be worked out. He said he would offer a proposal "scaling back dramatically" the drilling area in the refuge. It also would keep some parts of the coastal plain where the oil is located off limits to protect caribou.

The idea of a "caribou free zone" was quickly dismissed by drilling opponents as was another attempt by Tauzin to link refuge development to GOP acceptance of a Senate-approved climate change provision.

"It is clear there's strong opposition" from Senate Democrats to drilling, said Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., who leads the Senate negotiators.

Bingaman said he and the other lawmakers "left the president without any illusions on how difficult" it will be to resolve the refuge issue as well as other areas of dispute in the few weeks before Congress adjourns.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said in a statement said negotiators "should not waste our time discussing" the refuge because the Democratic-led Senate will not accept any drilling.

He also rejected suggestions of "sacrificing the unspoiled Arctic refuge to destructive oil exploration" in exchange for acceptance of a climate provision already approved by the Senate. The Senate legislation calls for new reporting requirements for greenhouse gas emissions, something industry has resisted.



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