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Senate Democrats Hope to Defeat ANWR Provision in Afternoon Vote

As part of the Senate’s continuing work on the fiscal 2004 budget, lawmakers will decide Wednesday afternoon whether to allow oil and natural gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) has offered an amendment that would strip from the budget resolution a set of instructions directing the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to allow oil companies to move ahead with drilling.

Republican leaders included the instructions in the budget language to ensure easier passage of the controversial proposal.

“I hate that we’re fighting this in the context of the budget resolution,” Boxer said at a Tuesday-morning press conference packed with environmentalists.

Democratic Senators praised the grassroots campaign that they said will ultimately lead to the amendment’s passage.

“We’re not going to let a bunch of crazed oil drillers ruin what [some American Indian tribes have] protected for 10,000 years,” Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Calif.) said.

But oil-drilling proponents were also making last-ditch efforts to woo wavering Senators before the 3 p.m. vote.

A press release quoting three Inupiat Eskimo tribe leaders was circulated stating that allowing oil exploration would help their tribe’s economy.

Boxer noted that the vote would be close and that even if environmentalists prevail, Congress will have to do more to ensure that oil drilling is never allowed.

“We’re going to win this one, [but] unfortunately I don’t think this will be the end,” added Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). “We’ll have to be vigilant.”

If the Senate drops the ANWR language from the budget resolution, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) said, a similar provision will be included in an energy bill he wants to bring to the floor by April 1.

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