(Host) Senator Jim Jeffords says a plan to open up the Arctic Wilderness for oil and gas drilling is likely to emerge as one of the top environmental issues in the next session of Congress. Despite big Republican gains in the Senate, Jeffords is optimistic that the proposal will be defeated.
VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:
(Kinzel) Jeffords will be in a key position to review the environmental agenda of the Bush administration as the ranking minority member of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee. Jeffords says he’s very concerned about the Bush agenda and he’s started to meet with moderates in the Senate in an effort to organize opposition to many of the president’s environmental initiatives:
(Jeffords) “I have strong concerns looking at what they attempted to do during this present administration. And what looks like on the horizon, they’re going to continue to undermine our environmental laws and try to open up places to drill and all sorts of things like that.”
(Kinzel) The last time a plan to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge came before the Senate was in 2003. The proposal was defeated by a vote of 52 to 48. In the November election, Republicans picked up four seats in the Senate and backers of the ANWAR drilling plan think they now have the votes to pass the initiative.
Jeffords has been a long time opponent of this plan:
(Jeffords) “I think that when you start doing it when it’s unnecessary you’re opening up the destruction of very important ecosystems up in that area. So I think it’s unnecessary and we should be very wary of disturbing things which are so environmentally desirable and sound. We can find ways to make it unnecessary by conservation and renewables and other sources, rather than getting into destroying valuable ecosystems.”
(Kinzel) After reviewing this issue with a bipartisan group of moderate senators, Jeffords thinks the ANWAR plan can be defeated:
(Jeffords) “I came away much more optimistic to our ability to maintain the status quo, if not better.”
(Kinzel) Senator Patrick Leahy also strongly opposes efforts to open up the Alaska National Wilderness Area for gas and oil drilling.
For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.