Republican blackmail fails to open ANWR

For the second time this year, Republicans resorted to the sneaky tactic of slipping a provision to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil drilling into a big appropriations package. Last time, it passed the Senate but the measure was removed from the House version following a revolt by moderate Republicans. (Outside, Nov. 11) This time it failed to get through the Senate—even though Republicans tried to play the patriotism card by slipping it into a military appropriations bill. Almost mind-bogglingly sleazy (even by contemporary Republican standards) was the blatant attempt to hold Katrina recovery funds hostage to the rape of Alaska’s North Slope. From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Dec. 22:

The outcome, which both sides said was too close to predict until the very end, was an especially sharp setback for Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska. Stevens, who has pushed doggedly for 25 years to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, added the provision to a must-pass $453 billion defense spending bill, reasoning that even some ANWR opponents could not oppose a bill that supports troops in a time of war.

But the tactic failed as Stevens and his allies fell four votes short of the 60 votes needed in a noon vote to snuff out a filibuster threatened by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. Nearly 10 hours later, the Senate officially stripped ANWR from the bill and approved the updated version by a vote of 93-0.

Democrats and environmental groups praised Cantwell for orchestrating an opposition that forced Republicans to remove ANWR from the spending bill. But Stevens said opponents would pay a heavy political price because royalties from drilling in ANWR would have financed billions of dollars of federal spending on everything from border protection to money for first responders and recovery money for Gulf Coast states ravaged by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

With ANWR removed, that money disappears, Stevens said.

“I will go to every state and tell them what you’ve done,” Stevens said, his anger rising with each word. In a break from Senate tradition, he mentioned Cantwell by name several times. “I will go to Washington state many, many times. I’m going to explain the bill to everybody in the country.”

See our last post on the struggle for ANWR.