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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Energy Bill

Air Date: Week of

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As the US Senate prepares for a showdown over energy, Living On Earth’s Anna Solomon-Greenbaum reports on last-minute political maneuvers in Washington.


CURWOOD: The energy of the U.S. Senate these days is focused on the energy bill that's now before the chamber. At the core of the debate remains the question of whether or not Senators will vote to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and natural gas drilling. Living on Earth's Anna Solomon-Greenbaum has our update.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: On a recent morning on the South Lawn of the White House, President Bush rolled out a display of prototype vehicles, outfitted with hybrid and fuel cell engines. His new Freedom Car Initiative, he said, "would help make these engines a reality."

BUSH: Imagine when that technology comes into being. Imagine how less dependent America will be on foreign sources of energy. And how more easy it'll be to clean up our air.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: The president's emphasis on future technologies was a message to U.S. senators who are about to debate raising the fuel efficiency of American automobiles now. The White House prefers a long-term approach. A few days later, the administration reportedly began hinting it might scale-back the numbers of acres it wants for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.


Republicans in the House employed a similar tactic last fall, and pushed enough congressmen into the pro-drilling camp to get ANWR development into the final House bill. But will it work in the Senate?

CHAFEE: I think they were counting the votes at this stage. And they want to have an energy policy, and they know they're going to get into a no man's land, a dead end, on ANWR.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island is one of several moderate Republicans the White House is targeting on ANWR. Chafee's been opposed to drilling. And he says he'll stay that way. So will one of his colleagues from Maine. Republican Susan Collins says she doubts the administration's compromise will work.

COLLINS: I think it's a good faith attempt to try to reach a middle ground. But it's not an area that is very conducive to finding a middle ground.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: At the middle of the ANWR debate sits a small band of tight-lipped senators who have remained tight-lipped despite the administration's recent maneuverings. Indiana Republican Richard Lugar gave a weary smile.

LUGAR: I'll make my opinion very clear when I make up my mind. Thank you.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Meanwhile, the leaders in the energy debate remain unfazed. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle sounded pointedly cool about the issue.

DASCHLE: It's safe to say we have the votes on ANWR procedurally. And I'm not too worried about that issue, at this point.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Daschle says "procedurally," because that's how the Democrats will have to win this fight. Republicans may have the 51 plus votes they'd need to attach an open ANWR amendment to the energy bill. But Democrats plan to filibuster that move. Republicans will then need 60 votes to overcome the filibuster. And right now, that looks unlikely.

Senator Frank Murkowski of Alaska, the tireless champion for opening ANWR, continues to point out that Senator Daschle bypassed the normal committee process as the energy bill was being written. When asked by a reporter if he'll filibuster the entire energy bill if it doesn't end up with an open ANWR provision, Murkowski turned red.

MURKOWSKI: ANWR is going to be in the bill. Okay?

MAN: If it isn't, would you filibuster?

MURKOWSKI: I answered the question. Anybody got anything else?

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Environmentalists say how the Republicans respond to the expected ANWR filibuster from Democrats is the key question. Alden Meyer is with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

MEYER: Will they try to bring down the whole energy bill, and try to blame the emocrats for withholding a floor vote on Arctic? Or will they let the bill go to the merits, have the debate on CAFE, on renewables, on taxes, on the other provisions of the bill, and then take their chances in the conference committee?

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Environmentalists aren't letting their guard down. They're on the offensive with a national media campaign that's costing them hundreds of thousands of dollars.


FEMALE: Oil drilling is a dirty business. On Alaska's North Scope, big oil corporations already average more than 400 spills each year.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: On the other side, a coalition of labor and business groups is spending millions on its ads. And members from two native Alaskan tribes, who differ sharply on the ANWR question, have come all the way to Washington to lobby senators.

The energy bill faces hundreds of amendments. Debate could last for weeks, and in the end, could collapse on the toughest issues; fuel efficiency standards, and ANWR drilling. For Living on Earth, I'm Anna Solomon-Greenbaum in Washington.

[MUSIC: Sting, "Desert Rose," BRAND NEW DAY (Interscope - 1999)]



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