Conservationists Decry Role of Special Interests in Arctic Refuge Vote

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(10/27/1995) - Conservationists attacked today's vote on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the budget reconciliation bill, saying the vote shows that many Senators are in the pockets of special interest lobbies and out of step with the majority of the American people who oppose oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Refuge. Conservationists are counting on President Clinton to veto the budget reconciliation bill as he promised he would do, and say no to special interest control of the public's natural resources. The vote was 51 to 48 in favor of drilling in the refuge.

President Clinton stated his support for the Arctic Refuge in a letter last night to Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT): "I will veto any reconciliation bill that opens ANWR to oil drilling."

Rodger Schlickeisen, President of Defenders of Wildlife, said: "Today's vote shows substantial bipartisan Senate opposition to drilling in the Arctic Refuge. We are counting on President Clinton to veto this bill that would wreak havoc on Alaska's coastal plain and the wildlife that lives there. We are confident that drilling supporters will not have the 2/3 majority needed to overturn the President's veto."

On the Senate floor this morning, Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) offered a bi-partisan amendment to delete the provision in the Senate Budget Reconciliation Bill that would open the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge to oil and gas drilling. The amendment was co- sponsored by Senators William Roth (R-DE) and Joseph Leiberman (D- CT). The vote occurred as a result of a motion to table the Baucus amendment, offered by Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM).

Conservationists note that support for saving the Arctic is growing, as reflected in the fact that four Senators who had previously supported drilling in the refuge switched their votes and opposed the drilling provision. These Senators, had voted for refuge drilling in a May 1995 vote on an amendment to remove the Arctic Refuge drilling provision from the budget bill, offered by Senator William Roth (R- DE).

Roth's amendment lost by a vote of 44-56. The provision to drill the Arctic Refuge was placed into the budget bill by Alaska Senators Frank Murkowski and Ted Stevens for the supposed $1.3 billion in revenue that would be generated by lease sales to reduce the federal deficit.

Several recent polls indicate that Americans do not support drilling in the Arctic Refuge. An October 1995 CNN poll found that two-thirds of Americans strongly oppose drilling the Arctic Refuge, and an October 1995 Lake Research poll found that by a 56 to 28 percent margin, voters reject the idea that oil drilling could be conducted in an environmentally safe way. The Lake poll also found that nearly six in ten voters (58 percent) oppose drilling even if oil royalties were used to reduce the federal deficit.

According to Defenders' Schlickeisen, "President Clinton is acting in the public interest and with the support of the American people in promising to veto this bill. Arctic drilling should not begin simply because special interests have lined enough campaign coffers to buy a slight congressional majority."

Recent estimates by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Department of Interior show that revenues from oil and gas lease sales on the Arctic Refuge coastal plain would be substantially lower than the $1.3 billion touted by Alaska's congressional delegation. In an October 25, 1995 letter to Senator Murkowski, OMB Director Alice Rivlin stated, "...we believe the best estimate of net revenues to be only about $850 million--35 percent less than CBO [Congressional Budget Office]."

The Administration's analysis made adjustments to estimates prepared in 1991 by the Bureau of Land Management to reflect more current information that expected oil prices are about 45 percent lower now than they were in 1991; that exploration and development costs are about 7.5 percent lower than was estimated in 1991; and 3) new information developed by the United States Geological Survey indicates greater uncertainty about the recoverable resources that may be discovered.

The Arctic Refuge provides critical habitat to more than 200 species of animals, including migratory birds, wolves, grizzly bears, muskoxen and wolverines. The 152,000-member Porcupine Caribou Herd gives birth to its young on the coastal plain, and the refuge is also the nation's most important on-shore habitat for polar bear denning. The native Gwich'in people in Alaska and Canada would be severely impacted by expected declines in the Porcupine Caribou Herd if drilling is allowed to occur. Biologists predict that the oil rigs, roads, pipelines, airstrips, production facilities, seismic surveys, and pollution associated with development would have severe negative impacts on the fragile coastal plain ecosystem.

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Contact(s):

Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270