Dec. 22, 2005 – A Democratic filibuster, a handful of moderate Republicans and the Senateâ€™s lone independent kept oil exploration in the protected Alaskan wild out of a mammoth defense spending bill passed in the Senate yesterday. The move earned praise from environmental groups.
- Senate to Revisit Alaska Oil, Gas Drilling Once More (Oct 19, 2005)
Amid five floor votes yesterday, the Senate approved a $53.5 billion defense spending bill without a proposed amendment opening a small portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. The amendment, offered by Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens (R), would have allowed resource exploitation in a portion of the 19.6 million-acre Refuge, which has been protected from commercial exploitation for 25 years and is home to 45 different species of mammals, 180 bird species and 36 types of fish.
Democrats led a filibuster of the amendment, which was strengthened by three Republicans, including Senate majority leader Bill Frist (R-Tennessee) and Jim Jeffords (I-Vermont), gaining enough support to survive a floor vote to end the action, 56-44. Four Democrats, Ben Nelson (Nebraska), Mary Landrieu (Louisiana) and Hawaiiâ€™s Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye, sided with the majority of Republicans in voting to end the parliamentary maneuver, according to information released by the Senate.
The move to keep ANWR drilling out of the defense spending bill was quickly cheered by environmental groups. Several had expressed grave concerns over efforts to add the measure to what is seen by many as "must pass" legislation.
"This is a tremendous victory for all Americans and proof positive that the fate of the Arctic Refuge must be debated on its merits, not as part of a sneak attack," Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope said in a statement pointing out that Stevens and his supporters have failed to attach the drilling provision to every major bill passed this year.
Earthjustice termed the successful filibuster a "hard-won environmental victory" and made sure to thank people who took part in the organizationâ€™s campaign to defeat Stevensâ€™s amendment.
Under Stevensâ€™s plan, oil companies would have been allowed to drill on 1.5 million acres of the Refugeâ€™s Coastal Plain.
The US Energy Information Administration estimates that there are between 5.7 and 16 billion barrels of oil under the entire refuge and the most recent agency report found that it would take ten years to begin extracting usable oil out of ANWR ground.