President Bush’s revival of the controversial idea to open up an Alaskan refuge to oil drilling as a way to reduce gas prices drew a harsh reception from two key moderate Republican Senators on Tuesday.
Asked about Bush’s proposal, Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) said he does not support drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Coleman was adamant about his disapproval of any attempt to drill in Alaska.
“I oppose drilling in Alaska,” Coleman said. “I have always opposed it, and I will continue to oppose it.”
The Minnesota Senator, who is up for re-election and faces a competitive race against actor Al Franken, said there were other ways to combat high oil prices, including conservation, energy efficiency, drilling off the coast of Virginia and attempting to stop market speculation.
Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) agreed with her Republican colleague, saying she also opposes drilling in Alaska. She suggested Congress pursue conservation as well as expand renewable and alternative energy sources.
As the price of gasoline continues to climb, lawmakers are floating a variety of ideas to alleviate the burden of high gasoline prices. Most Senate Republicans have joined President Bush’s call to open ANWR for oil drilling.
Republicans have long sought to access ANWR, which sits off the Alaskan coast. They argue that it would help both the long-term energy sufficiency problems and the short-term goal of gas price reduction.
But ANWR has been little talked about in the past two years. It did not receive much traction when Republicans were in control of Congress and, in fact, faced a veto from former President Bill Clinton when Alaskan oil drilling language was inserted into the federal budget.
But Bush again brought up the idea during his press conference Tuesday, perhaps calculating that this was his last, best chance to get such a measure approved.
“I will tell you this, that if Congress is truly interested in solving the problem, they can send the right signal by saying we’re going to explore for oil and gas in the U.S. territories, starting with ANWR,” Bush said.
Placing a pause on stockpiling oil in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve has, however, received some traction in the Senate Republican Conference, despite Bush’s opposition to that idea, which was repeated Tuesday.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), Republican Policy Committee chairwoman, said she supports putting a short-term hold on filling the oil reserves.
Still, Republicans put more emphasis on drilling in Alaska, saying it would be in the nation’s interest to be less dependent on foreign oil by focusing on domestic oil sources.
As Bush outlined numerous proposals to reduce gas prices, Senate Republicans derided Democrats for not moving quickly to tackle the problem. Republicans have recently been reminding Democrats of their promise, when Democrats were in the minority, to sponsor legislation that would reduce prices at the pump.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) recalled that then-Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) promised that if Democrats were in control, they would release a “common sense” gas plan, which has never materialized.
“Three years ago, Democrats promised a common sense plan to reduce gasoline prices. The price is now $120 a barrel. This is a good time to roll out that plan,” Cornyn said.
Democrats said they plan to do just that by the end of this week, but it’s unclear at this point exactly what the plan will contain.