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Senate rejects plan to open Arctic refuge to drilling

By Sean Cockerham, McClatchy Newspapers –

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

Tuesday’s vote was the first time in four years that the Senate has voted on a measure including ANWR drilling, and it failed miserably. The proposal needed 60 votes to pass; it only received 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, in part a Republican jab at President Barack Obama during a time of high gasoline prices, was packed with so many controversial items that it was bound to fail in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

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

But Begich complained the measure was “junked” full of other provisions and was put forward 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,” Begich said. “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.”

Two other Democrats, Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, also voted yes. All but seven Republicans — Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida, Bob Corker of Tennessee, Mike Lee of Utah and Scott Brown of Massachusetts — voted in favor of the amendment.

The 78-page amendment was similar to legislation passed by the Republican-controlled House 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 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 included lots of things for senators to find fault with.

There was less than 10 minutes of debate on the measure. Roberts said the measure would address the “No. 1 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.

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