In a stunning setback to the Bush administration, the Senate shot down a key element in President Bush’s energy plan on April 18. The 54-46 vote, which saw eight Republicans breaking ranks with the White House, fell well short of the 60 votes necessary to end debate on legislation that would have given Bush authority to allow drilling for oil on the Arctic Natural Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

Deb Callahan, president of the League of Conservation Voters, said the Senate’s action was “the environmental community’s biggest political win in years,” adding that the victory came as a result of the biggest grassroots lobbying campaign in a decade.

It also came in the face of a massive lobbying effort by oil interests and groups such as Arctic Power who spent $1.8 million in efforts to influence Congress.

Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, agreed with Callahan. “The public said they want the Arctic Refuge protected for future generations, and their Senators heard them loud and clear,” he said, in a statement the day after the Senate vote.

However, Pope and other environmental activists expressed concern about the Senate bill, now nearing final action.

“Despite good news on the Arctic,” he said, “ the energy bill has been a bitter disappointment to environmentalists, forgoing as it does meaningful opportunities to conserve energy and wean the nation off its ever-increasing oil dependence.”

Pope said the energy bill will do next to nothing to reduce U.S. consumption of foreign oil, to increase the nation’s energy security, to protect families from electricity price gouging, or to safeguard our environment. He said unless the current bill is fixed, it is “unacceptable as energy policy.”

Melinda Pierce, Sierra Club Arctic lobbyist, says the legislation now wending its way through the Senate has been “whittled down to almost nothing” by a series of amendments. “There is little to like about it,” she told the World in an April 23 telephone interview.

Pierce said S-517, drafted under the leadership of Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), “began as a promising vehicle” for meeting our nation’s energy needs, diversifying our energy portfolio, saving consumers money and forging a path to a clean energy future.

She said the present bill does not significantly boost clean energy and fails to adequately protect electricity consumers and will expose them to more Enron-like trading deals. “Overall,” she added, “S-517 fails to protect our environment by perpetuating our use of 19th century, dirty energy that threatens our health and our future.”

The energy bill passed by the House of Representatives last summer included a provision opening ANWR to the oil interests. It also included provisions that encourage increased production of fossil fuels, relaxed regulations and subsidies for the coal and nuclear industries and construction of 1,300 to 1,900 power plants over the next 20 years. When finally approved by the Senate, discrepancies between the two versions will be reconciled in a conference committee

President Dwight Eisenhower established the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in 1960, to protect “its unique wildlife, wilderness, and recreational values.” Last year, President Bush made opening the Refuge to oil and gas drilling the centerpiece of his energy plan, despite clear evidence that drilling would destroy the much of the refuge while providing the nation with less than a six-month supply of oil that would not be availaboe for another 10 years.

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Fred Gaboury
Fred Gaboury

Fred Gaboury was a member of the Editorial Board of the print edition of  People’s Weekly World/Nuestro Mundo and wrote frequently on economic, labor and political issues. Gaboury died in 2004. Here is a small selection of Fred’s significant writings: Eight days in May Birmingham and the struggle for civil rights; Remembering the Rev. James Orange; Memphis 1968: We remember; June 19, 1953: The murder of the Rosenbergs; World Bank and International Monetary Fund strangle economies of Third World countries