Energy Committee Expected to Give ANWR Thumbs Up

By Jason Pierce | July 7, 2008 | 8:28 PM EDT

( - President Bush's plan to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil exploration seemed all but dead when Republicans in the Senate had to cede power to the Democratic caucus in early June.

But now, supporters are optimistic about the bill's chances in committee, and even on the Senate floor.

Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska), ranking member on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, told reporters earlier in the week that he has the votes needed to push the legislation successfully through the Energy Committee, thanks to two Democrats willing to cross party lines.

One Murkowski staffer said the Alaska Republican not only feels optimistic about getting the legislation through the committee, but also through the full Senate, despite the threat of a filibuster from Democrats.

"The Senator seems to think [ANWR still has a chance]," the staffer said. "He admits that he is a few votes short on the floor, but seems to think he can get them."

According to a report in Monday's Congress Daily, a survey of members of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee reveals that Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) are the two Democrats willing to support drilling in the Arctic refuge.

Akaka's office was unavailable for comment, but records show that the Hawaiian senator has supported ANWR exploration both times it has come up for a vote since 1995.

A spokesperson for Landrieu also indicated that the Louisiana Democrat plans to vote in favor of ANWR exploration. Landrieu, whose state is heavily involved with oil producing and refining, is up for re-election in 2002.

While two Democratic votes could push ANWR exploration through committee, Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) will be the sole Republican to vote against the plan.

"Senator Smith's position is 'not now but not never,'" said Smith's spokesman, Joe Sheffo. "He has been to ANWR and understands why people want to preserve it, but realizes that if it comes down to sending soldiers to the Middle East to die for oil, then we need to produce it here at home."

Dave Woodruff, Republican spokesman for the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said the main strategy Republicans are using to maintain momentum for the ANWR legislation is informing the public of the need for a comprehensive energy plan, that involves both conservation and production.

"Gas prices are down and California is having a cool summer, but that doesn't [change] the fact that we have a lot of different issues here that are contributing to substantial concerns about energy," Woodruff said. "If you look back historically, those gas prices are going to pop back up due to our limited refinery capacity, and we will continue to have problems with transmission, transportation and infrastructure.

"The factors are still there. Just because there are not energy stories on the front pages of newspapers about $1.90 gasoline doesn't mean we don't have a responsibility to a comprehensive energy plan," he said.

Woodruff added that the most important issue is still national security, which is endangered by the amount of oil we get each day from "some very unstable parts of the world." He added that the more the U.S. depends on foreign nations, "the more we are held hostage."

"We get a million barrels a day from the Middle East, and twice this week, we have dumped a whole bunch of ordnance on Saddam Hussein to get him in line," Woodruff said. "That is not the recipe for a stable, secure, safe supply of energy."