Committee votes against directional drilling in ANWR

Erika Bolstad

WASHINGTON - The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday shot down Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski's effort to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to directional drilling.

The amendment, which came up during work on an energy bill, failed 10-13. Murkowski, the top Republican on the energy committee, has argued that directional drilling could be done from outside the refuge to tap reserves within its boundaries.

Just one Republican voted against Murkowski's proposal: Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee who chose Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate.

McCain, a longtime opponent of developing ANWR, wasn't expected to vote with Murkowski on Tuesday. But environmentalists with the Alaska Wilderness League were watching him closely, curious whether Palin could have changed his mind.

Back in September, shortly after Palin was selected as McCain's running mate, she was asked by ABC's Charlie Gibson about how she reconciled her support for development in ANWR with McCain's anti-drilling stance. At the time, she told Gibson that she and McCain would "agree to disagree, but I'm gonna keep pushing that, and I think, eventually, we're all gonna come together on that one."

The vote, said Alaska Wilderness League's Kristin Miller, "shows that there is still clear bipartisan support to keep the Arctic Refuge pristine and wild for generations to come."

Separately, the committee voted to end a ban on offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, an addition that prompted a promise by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., to filibuster the energy bill. Some of the now-prohibited zones within the eastern Gulf of Mexico are as close as 10 miles to Florida's panhandle beaches.