NY Times reported without challenge Sen. Stevens's claim that Senate promised to open ANWR for drilling

››› ››› JOE BROWN

The New York Times reported without challenge Sen. Ted Stevens's (R-AK) claim that in 1980, the Senate promised to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for oil drilling. In fact, the 1980 law creating ANWR only said that it would be up to Congress to decide whether to give permission to drill.

A December 22 New York Times article by Carl Hulse reported without challenge Sen. Ted Stevens's (R-AK) assertion that his push to gain authorization for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) was an attempt to force the Senate to fulfill a 1980 promise to allow the drilling. Stevens recently attempted to gain approval for drilling in ANWR by attaching an amendment to a defense appropriations bill, a move that angered some Democratic and Republican senators who argued that it violated Senate rules prohibiting the addition of extraneous measures to bills being considered in conference committees. As a December 22 Washington Post article by Juliet Eilperin reported, Democrats and Republicans opposed to Stevens's amendment filibustered the defense bill, and the Senate subsequently "agreed to pass the defense bill, without the drilling provision."

In describing the rejection of the defense bill containing Stevens's amendment, the Times reported: "Mr. Stevens denied that he had upended any rules and said he was only trying to do right by his state and force the Senate to follow through on a promise made in 1980 to allow drilling in the refuge."

But as a December 23 Sacramento Bee article by Liz Ruskin and Rob Hotakainen noted, the purported "promise" to allow drilling in ANWR came from two senators in particular -- Henry "Scoop" Jackson (D-WA) and Paul Tsongas (D-MA), two key sponsors of the 1980 bill that expanded Alaska's 9.5-million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Range to create the 19-million-acre land preserve now known as ANWR. The promise allegedly made to Stevens by Jackson and Tsongas did not come from the Senate as a whole; in fact, the 1980 bill creating ANWR left it to a future Congress to decide whether to drill in the 1.5-million-acre coastal plain area of ANWR. The question of whether to open this area to drilling was the topic of recent debate in the Senate.

The Bee reported:

Congress couldn't decide what to do with the far northeastern corner of the state, the coastal plain of the Arctic refuge, which was believed to be an excellent oil prospect but also important to caribou and other wildlife. Alaska's senators wanted it available for oil development and Democratic leaders wanted it protected as wilderness.

In the end, they compromised. The 1980 law says the land would be studied and a future Congress would decide what to do with it. So Stevens keeps trying.

He often says that he actually won the fight back in 1980. The two Democrats in charge of the bill, Sens. Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts and Henry "Scoop" Jackson of Washington, promised to allow oil drilling on the coastal plain, Stevens insists. It burns him that some of the strongest opposition to drilling ANWR now comes from the senators from those states.

"These people are filibustering fulfilling the commitment of Senator Tsongas and Senator Jackson," Stevens complained this week. "Those two gentlemen left us prematurely and, as a consequence, we have fought now for 25 years to fulfill that commitment."

But if Stevens did win that promise from the senators, he didn't win it in law.

As the Post noted on December 22, the 1980 law creating ANWR -- on which Stevens said he struck his deal with Tsongas and Jackson -- contained language "saying only [Congress] could determine whether drilling was permissible in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge." The bill did not contain a promise to open part of ANWR to oil drilling. The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980 (16 U.S.C. §§ 3101-3233) states: "Production of oil and gas from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is prohibited and no leasing or other development leading to production of oil and gas from the range shall be undertaken until authorized by an Act of Congress."

Posted In
Environment & Science, Drilling
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