Tight vote expected as Club targets Republican moderates
by John Byrne Barry
Maine’s two senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, consider themselves champions of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. They have voted several times against Arctic drilling and joined the filibuster against it in 2003.
But Maine Sierra Club staffer Maureen Drouin says that because Bush administration allies in Congress snuck projected revenues from Arctic drilling into the $2.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill—which also includes provisions affecting Maine’s struggling shipbuilding industry and Medicaid program—Collins and Snowe could end up tipping the balance in favor of drilling.
Of course, Maine’s two senators aren’t the only ones who hold the Arctic Refuge’s fate in their hands. The budget bill vote, expected in late September, will be close. “We can win,” says Melinda Pierce, who’s leading the Club’s efforts to protect the Arctic. “In the House, traditionally a more difficult landscape, we lost the budget vote in April by three votes, and of the 15 Republicans who broke with their party to vote against it, 11 did so because of the Arctic.”
Pierce says a growing group of moderate Republicans has pledged to oppose a final budget bill if it has Arctic drilling in it.
When Collins and Snowe ultimately voted for that first round of the budget bill in April, with the Arctic drilling in it, Drouin was crushed.
“Shortly before the vote,” she says, “a delegation of Maine Sierra Club volunteers and staff met with Senator Collins and we thanked her for her past support of the Arctic Refuge and for her support of boosting automobile fuel economy and focusing more attention on global warming. It was a very good meeting. She was very respectful. She said she was going to try.”
Snowe circulated a letter to Republican leadership urging that Arctic drilling authorization be stripped from the budget bill and both she and Collins voted for an amendment to do so, but that failed by two votes. Then the two senators voted for the entire package.
“They admitted to the press that it was a hard vote for them because it included Arctic drilling,” says Drouin. “This upcoming vote is crucial and will show if Senators Snowe and Collins are the Arctic champions they claim to be.” Maine Sierra Clubbers are birddogging Collins and Snowe while the senators are in the state during the August recess to remind them of their strong record of support and to make clear this vote would open the Refuge to drilling.
Of course, President Bush and Vice President Cheney will be applying pressure as well.
Budget bills are usually party line votes and congressional Democrats have been united in their opposition to the budget so far this year. So the Club is focusing its grassroots organizing efforts on the seven Republican senators who have opposed Arctic drilling in the past—Snowe, Collins, Mike Dewine of Ohio, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, John McCain of Arizona, Gordon Smith of Oregon, and Norm Coleman of Minnesota—and the 29 moderates in the House who have done so as well.
“Plan One is to get Arctic drilling out of the budget,” says Drouin. “If that doesn’t work, we need 51 votes to defeat the budget bill.”
Budget bills are not subject to the filibuster, so a simple majority can pass or stop the bill.
Pierce blasts the administration for abusing the legislative process and slipping this into the budget bill. “Congress should give the Arctic Refuge the complete and careful consideration it deserves—not as a backdoor addition to the budget reconciliation. The speculative revenue gains are too small and the sacrifice too great.”
Congress used the same budget maneuver in 1995, but President Clinton vetoed it.
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge comprises 19 million acres, but its biological heart is the narrow 1.5 million-acre coastal plain on the shores of the icy Beaufort Sea, home to polar bears, wolves, countless migratory birds, and the birthing grounds for the 129,000-member Porcupine Caribou herd.
“Big oil wants to drill in the very heart of this spectacular landscape—this is the last place in the world we should drill,” says Pierce. “Arctic drilling would do nothing to lower the price of gas at the pump, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, or strengthen our national security.”
The Sierra Club supports accelerated investment in energy-efficient technologies and the development of renewable energy sources like wind and solar power. Pierce says that simply requiring automakers to make cars and trucks that average 40 miles per gallon would save far more oil than could ever be extracted from the Arctic Refuge.
Take action: Sign the Club’s petition in support of protecting the Arctic, send a letter to your senators and representative, write letters to the editor of your local newspapers. (And if you have friends or relatives in Maine, call them and urge them to tell Senators Snowe and Colins that the Arctic Refuge is a national treasure that the majority of Americans want protected.)
For more information, contact Jeff Waner at (202) 675-7914 or Melinda Pierce at (202) 675-7912.
caribou photo by Ken Whitten
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