Senate rejects drilling for oil in Arctic refuge

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Senate on Tuesday resoundingly rejected a sweeping measure to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other protected areas to drilling as well as approve construction of the Keystone pipeline project.

The vote was the first time in four years the Senate has voted on a measure including ANWR drilling, and it failed miserably. The proposal needed 60 votes to pass and avoid a filibuster. It received only 41 votes in favor, with 57 senators against.

Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts pushed the measure as an amendment to the bill that funds transportation projects across the nation. His amendment was packed with so many controversial items it was bound to fail in the Democratic-controlled Senate. It was as much a jab at President Obama by Republican leaders during a time of high gas prices and election politics as anything else.

Alaska Democratic Sen. Mark Begich still broke with others in his party and voted for the amendment, saying he did it to back ANWR drilling.

But he complained the bill was "junked" full of other provisions and was put forth to score political points.

"If we want to get serious about an energy plan that includes ANWR and other Alaska oil and gas resources, let's get to it. But an amendment to an important transportation bill that is put forward simply to divide the body is not a good way to conduct public policy," Begich said.

Including Begich, three Democrats voted for the measure: Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Seven Republicans voted against it: Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine; Scott Brown of Massachusetts; Bob Corker of Tennessee; Jim DeMint of South Carolina; Marco Rubio of Florida; and Mike Lee of Utah.

The 78-page amendment is similar to legislation passed by the Republican-controlled House passed last month. It would require the Interior Department to lease huge areas in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans to drilling as well as approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project from the Canadian oil sands in Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico.

Adrian Herrera, who is paid by the state of Alaska to lobby Congress to open ANWR, has called the proposal a "hail Mary" measure that includes lots of things for senators to find fault with.

There was less than 10 minutes of debate on the measure. Kansas Republican Roberts said it would address the "number one issue facing every American of all walks of life ... which is the rising cost of gasoline."

Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow spoke against the measure. "It includes dangerous requirements for drilling in the Arctic and offshore locations without any safeguards," she said.

Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young said the Senate is "the black hole for job creating legislation passed by the House."

Reach Sean Cockerham at or (202) 383-6016.


Anchorage Daily News

Sean Cockerham

Sean Cockerham is a former reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. He also covered Alaska issues for McClatchy Newspapers based in Washington, D.C.