One way or another, Senate will take up ANWR, Murkowski says

Alaska Republican Sen. Frank Murkowski will continue efforts to open the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration this year and is optimistic the issue will be addressed in the U.S. Senate, one way or another.

An energy bill passed by the House includes a provision to allow the coastal plain to be explored, but the Senate’s Democratic leaders have refused to let the issue come to a vote, Murkowski said.

Murkowski said that’s because they don’t have the votes to stop ANWR’s opening.

"We’ve got two Democrats with us in the Energy Committee and possibly a third," he said. "It’s enough to get an ANWR bill out of committee" and to the full Senate.

To prevent that, Senate Majority Leader Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., has instructed Energy Committee Chairman Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., not to hold any meetings of the committee.

"We haven’t had a business meeting of the committee since October," Murkowski said.

Meanwhile, the Senate Democrats’ energy bill, written by Bingaman, does not include an ANWR provision. It was sent out by the chairman, but not the full committee, under an unusual procedure that allows a chairman to move a bill directly.

The Republican energy bill, which does include ANWR, is still in the committee.

Murkowski said he hopes ANWR can be given a full-blown debate in the committee and before the full Senate, but he is prepared to attempt an ANWR amendment on the president’s economic stimulus package, which is still in the Senate.

Since ANWR leasing is expected to bring the government at least $3 billion in new federal revenues, it could fit into the stimulus package, Murkowski said.

Senate Republicans have other kinds of leverage on this issue, too. There are indications Daschle and other farm-state senators want to complete work on major agricultural legislation this year, Murkowski said.

To do so, they’ll need the cooperation of Senate Republicans. Democrats control the Senate with a one-vote majority, 51 to 49.

On other energy issues important to Alaska, Murkowski said major work on the energy legislation, which will include provisions on the Alaska gas pipeline, has yet to be done.

The Democrats’ energy bill includes language proposed by the North Slope gas producers as well as a set of economic incentives.

"They threw it in as a bone, to take the heat off ANWR and show they’re doing something meaningful to promote Alaska energy," Murkowski said.

"But it’s not exactly what the producers wanted," he said.

Murkowski said he will convene a meeting in Washington in early February with the producers and the gas pipeline companies that are proposing a consortium to build a pipeline, along with state officials, to sort out what is really needed in federal legislation.

The three major gas producers, BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc., ExxonMobil Production Co. and Phillips Alaska Inc., have agreed to the meeting, along with the pipeline companies and the state, Murkowski said.

"I’m very pleased at their responsiveness. The purpose of this meeting is to bring these parties together," he said.

Early last fall the Senate Energy Committee met on the pipeline issue and the lack of unity between the producers, the state and pipeline companies on the issue gave Bingaman, the committee chairman, a reason to delay action on legislation.

An important goal in the legislation will be to protect Alaska’s interests in setting pipeline tariffs and other regulatory decisions by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Murkowski said.

The 1976 Alaska Natural Gas Transportation Act gives the state a formal role with FERC, but the gas pipeline provisions in the Democrats’ energy bill do not provide any similar special status for the state before FERC on Alaska gas issues.

"We have to be very careful with this, to protect Alaska’s interests," Murkowski said.

The senator also expects to work on incentives to encourage development of heavy oil on the North Slope.

BP and Phillips are developing heavy oil in the Schrader Bluff and West Sak deposits, which have a huge resource of oil. The oil is difficult and costly to produce, however.

01/21/2002 - 8:00pm