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Begich: Opening ANWR key to energy plan

Sean CockerhamMcClatchy-Tribune News Service

Democrat Mark Begich is making drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge a centerpiece of his energy plan as he tries to defeat Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens, who has long struggled against national Democratic opposition to opening ANWR. "What's happened the last 40 years has not worked. We have not gotten ANWR open," Begich, the mayor of Anchorage said Thursday. "We have struggled with this arm-twisting, pounding on the table technique that has not gotten us any results. I think I have a different way of working with folks, I have an ability to cross party lines and bring people to the table."

Begich said it's clear the Democrats are going to be in control of the U.S. Senate.

"It would be a mistake for Alaskans not to be at the table in that majority making our point," Begich said.

The Stevens campaign, asked for a response, presented audio of comments Stevens made Wednesday when he called in to the Dan Fagan radio show on KFQD radio.

"To send someone to join the crowd down there, let's face it, the overwhelming majority of the Democratic Party is against developing Alaska period. I don't understand his argument," Stevens said.

Stevens said Senate Democrats have long blocked ANWR drilling. And it was Democratic President Bill Clinton who vetoed a budget bill in 1995 that included ANWR exploration, he said. Adding to the Democratic power in the Senate would not help, he said.

Begich said he'd push for ANWR drilling to be part of a comprehensive national energy plan.

Begich's energy proposal also includes setting goals for more renewable energy and fuel efficiency, a fund to make public buildings more energy efficient and efforts to get money for Alaska from federal offshore oil and gas leases.

Begich said Alaska didn't get a penny when the federal government sold more than $2.6 billion in Chukchi Sea leases this spring. That's because Alaska was left out of 2006 legislation that authorized offshore revenue sharing with Gulf of Mexico states, he said. The state could have netted $900 million, Begich said.

"With today's energy prices Alaskan families cannot afford to be shortchanged," he said.

Begich said Alaska needs to get such offshore oil lease money, some of which he'd invest in a renewable energy program for Alaskan communities.

But Stevens said it was the Senate Democratic leadership that kept Alaska out of that revenue sharing bill for offshore oil leases.

Begich is running in the Democratic primary against Frank Vondersaar of Homer and Ray Metcalfe, a former Republican state legislator who has switched parties.

Metcalfe noted that Begich would be just one of 100 senators if he's elected.

"If he was running for president he should put out an energy plan," Metcalfe said. "But he's a little bit overrating his self-importance."

Metcalfe supports ANWR drilling but said Begich is "cozying right up to the oil companies," with language in the plan about "working with the oil and gas industry." That what's helped get state politicians in trouble for corruption, he said.

Find Sean Cockerham online at adn.com/contact/scockerham or call him at 257-4344.


By SEAN COCKERHAM / scockerham@adn.com