WASHINGTON - March 18 - Proponents of oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge have been rebuffed for the third year in a row in their efforts, as the House Budget Committee passed a budget resolution containing no provisions that could pave the way to drilling in the Refuge's coastal plain. Conservationists had feared that drilling boosters would try again to use an obscure budget mechanism as a backdoor means to authorize drilling. Last year an attempt to open the Refuge through the budget was defeated decisively on the Senate floor.
The House Budget Resolution for FY 2005, like the version passed by the full Senate last week, contains no references at all to the Arctic Refuge. Drilling in the Refuge was a cornerstone of the White House's energy policy, and the President's 2005 budget proposals included an assumption of revenues from leasing in the refuge.
"We commend the Budget Committee, and particularly Chairman Jim Nussle (R-Iowa) and Vice Chairman Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), for their leadership in keeping the Arctic Refuge out of the budget," said Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League.
"This move reflects the growing understanding in the House of Representatives that Americans simply don't want drilling in the Arctic Refuge," said Jim Waltman, director of Refuges and Wildlife Programs at The Wilderness Society. "It also reaffirms the Senate's position that drilling in the Arctic Refuge would be a terrible mistake."
The Senate refused to include a similar provision in their budget two weeks ago, and last year the Senate voted 52-48 to keep this provision out of the budget. Poll after poll shows that the American people want to keep this special area free from development.
"We're very happy that the Congress has decided to keep the President's Arctic Refuge drilling requests out of the budget," said Athan Manual, director of the US PIRG Arctic Wilderness Campaign. "This bogus money-raising scheme is particularly unwise in the face of the real work the Congress has before it to tighten up the budget."
Conservation groups remain watchful for other suspicious schemes to slide proposals for Arctic drilling in through the back door.
"Drilling proponents have shown that they will say or do anything to open the Refuge, and we can only assume that they will try again," said Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League. "Until the Refuge is protected as wilderness, the environmental community - and our collective 2.9 million members across the country - will fight to protect it every step of the way."
"The fact that drilling in the Arctic Refuge keeps coming up again and again has nothing to do with the budget or generating revenues for America - it's all about the oil industry's power and influence inside the White House," said Dan Ritzman of the Alaska Coalition.
"This is a major setback for the President, who made Arctic drilling a centerpiece of his energy policy and of his budget request for this year," said Robert Dewey, vice president of Government Affairs at Defenders of Wildlife.
The Budget Committee's action yesterday was supported by a bipartisan group of lawmakers. Both Representatives Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) circulated letters urging the committee to leave this controversial provision out of the budget.
Today's budget vote comes on the heels of a report released yesterday by the Energy Department's Energy Information Agency that concluded that oil drilling in the Refuge would have only marginal effects, if any, on U.S. oil prices or imports. That report affirmed previous findings that oil from the refuge would provide less oil than the U.S. consumes in six months, and that no oil would reach market for ten years. According to the report, oil from the Refuge would not peak until the year 2025, and would account for a mere 3 percent of U.S. demand at peak production.