Senate Minority Blocks ANWR

Published February 1, 2006

In a tense December 21, 2005 vote, 43 U.S. senators prevented opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to drilling for oil and natural gas, by voting to sustain a filibuster.

The vote temporarily shut the door on plans to extract what are believed to be enormous oil and gas supplies from a small section of ANWR, but supporters of oil and gas recovery vowed to continue the fight in 2006.

Filibuster Defeated 57-43 Majority

Sixty senators must vote for cloture, a procedure that ends debate in the Senate. The final vote on cloture was officially 56-44. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) originally voted to end debate, but changed his vote before the final recording of votes. That procedural move allows him to bring up the matter again in the Senate.

Voting against ending debate were 41 Democrats and two Republicans–Mike DeWine of Ohio and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island–along with Frist.

Four Democrats voted with the 52 Republicans to end debate. Those Democrats were Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.

Hurricane Aid Scuttled

Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens (R), who has long worked to open ANWR to oil and gas production, sought to attach an ANWR-drilling amendment to a $453 billion defense appropriations bill. The amendment provided that some revenues derived from ANWR would be used for reconstruction in areas damaged by Hurricane Katrina, for farmland preservation grants, for financial grants to train and prepare first responders in the event of terrorism, and for funds to help low-income Americans pay their heating bills.

When it became evident the ANWR provision would not be added to the bill, Stevens offered a 10-minute floor speech where he said, “This has been the saddest day of my life.

“I worked three months of my life on this bill, primarily to find a way to help the people that I saw in New Orleans,” Stevens said.

Opponents Criticize Tactics

Some Democrats objected to Stevens adding the ANWR amendment to the defense appropriations bill so late in the budget-crafting process and just before the holiday recess. For Democrats such as Mark Pryor (D-AR), who were undecided about their support for ANWR natural resource recovery but ultimately voted against the amendment, the way the ANWR provision was attached to the defense bill may have been decisive.

The Senate later passed a version of the defense appropriation bill that did not include the ANWR amendment. A House-Senate conference committee will iron out differences between the two bills. The House version did contain a provision allowing natural resource recovery in ANWR.

ANWR Still in Play

Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM), a strong supporter of ANWR production, said he hoped to add ANWR to a budget reconciliation because those bills are not subject to filibusters and thus do not require a supermajority.

“Clearly we consider ANWR to be important to our nation’s energy supply and our nation’s defense,” said Courtney Boone, spokesperson for Stevens.

Referring to promises made in 1980 by former U.S. Sens. Scoop Jackson (D-WA) and Paul Tsongas (D-MA) to allow natural resource recovery in ANWR in exchange for Stevens’ support for creating ANWR, Boone said, “We will continue to fight for the promise that was made to us 25 years ago.”

In a separate statement, Stevens noted some of the strongest opposition to ANWR comes from Senate seats in Jackson and Tsongas’ home states. “These people are filibustering the commitment of Senator Tsongas and Senator Jackson. Those two gentlemen left us prematurely and, as a consequence, we have fought now for 25 years to fulfill that commitment,” Stevens said, as reported in the December 23, 2005 Sacramento Bee.

Added Alaska’s junior senator, Lisa Murkowski, in a news conference following the vote, “It does not mean that we give up. Absolutely, positively not. We are working on the next chapter of ANWR.”

Public Supports Resource Recovery

Political pressure may build to open a portion of ANWR to natural resource recovery. A 2005 Harris poll indicated 53 percent of the American public support drilling in ANWR. Similarly, a 2005 Luntz Research Group poll found more than 67 percent of Americans who were aware that only 2,000 out of 19.6 million acres of ANWR would be developed favored drilling.

A Pew Research Center poll released in fall 2005 found 57 percent of Americans believe it is more important to develop new energy sources than to protect the environment, and Americans favor oil and gas production in ANWR by a margin of 50 to 42 percent.

Michael Coulter ([email protected]) teaches political science at Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania.

For more information …

Opinion polls showing support for ANWR resource recovery are available online. See the Harris Interactive poll,; Luntz Research (for Arctic Power),; and The Pew Research Center,