(Host) The United States Senate has given its narrow approval to a measure that will allow drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Both of Vermont’s senators, Jim Jeffords and Patrick Leahy, strongly opposed the measure.
VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.
(Kinzel) The measure passed by a vote of 51 to 49 on a day that saw the wholesale price of oil hit a new record high. Backers of the plan argued that the drilling is needed to help reduce this country’s reliance on foreign oil. They estimate that there are several billion gallons of oil in the wilderness area that’s located in the northeastern part of Alaska.
Opponents are concerned that the drilling will cause enormous problems to the environment of the coastal plain region and they question how much oil can eventually be removed from the site.
Republican leaders attached the provision to a budget resolution – a parliamentary move that prevented opponents from launching a filibuster over the proposal. Senator Patrick Leahy says the fight over this issue is another example of how the Republicans are trying to force their agenda through Congress:
(Leahy) “I think it’s a bad mistake. This is a major environmental issue. The leadership of the Senate now wants to cut out debate on everything. They don’t want debate on judges, they don’t want debate on drilling in the Arctic wilderness. And I feel the people who were in favor of it ought to be able to stand in the Senate floor and have a real debate and state why they’re in favor of it. And those who are against the drilling, like myself, ought to be able to do the same.”
(Kinzel) Leahy says it wouldn’t be necessary to drill in the wilderness area if Congress were willing to take more effective steps to reduce oil consumption:
(Leahy) “We don’t want to take the strong steps necessary to cut down the huge consumption of oil here in the United States if we think we can drill our way out of it. We’re talking about a day or so’s consumption of oil. This is not the way to do it.”
(Kinzel) Senator Jim Jeffords says he opposed the plan because he doesn’t think the benefits outweigh the costs:
(Jeffords) “I don’t think it will make any significant difference in our oil availability or costs or anything. And that great wonderful resource up there ought to be maintained in its present state.”
(Kinzel) The plan to drill for oil is strongly supported by the Bush administration. It will now be considered in the House where it is expected to pass.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.