In a defeat for the Bush administration, the Senate has voted to kill a proposal to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.
The proposal to allow drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, known by the acronym ANWR, was a cornerstone of President Bush's energy plan.
In a procedural move, the Senate's Democratic majority voted to deny Republicans a vote on the proposal.
Reaction from the White House was swift. Spokesman Ari Fleischer said 'at a time when oil and gas prices are rising, the Senate missed an opportunity to lead America to greater energy independence.'
Supporters argued opening up the refuge to oil companies is essential to America's energy security. They cited Middle East instability and the recent political turmoil in Venezuela, the third-largest oil exporter to the United States, in making their case for reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
Senate Republican leader Trent Lott of Mississippi. "The point is that we are in danger, our national security and economic security could be threatened by the instability in the world, by the uncertainty, the unreliability of this oil and gas," he said. "If we start losing part of it, or large portions of it, we could be at a very difficult situation very soon."
But Democrats, including Connecticut Senator and former Vice Presidential candidate Joe Lieberman, argued no oil would flow for a decade under the plan, and that it would have little impact on oil imports or fuel prices.
"The fact is this proposal is not about action, it is about a distraction," he said. "It is about giving satisfaction to a small group that wants to further our reliance on oil no matter the environmental, economic, or political consequences. The fact is that drilling for oil in the Arctic refuge will destroy a beautiful piece of American land, and for what? For two-percent less dependence on foreign oil in the year 2020. We go from 62 percent to 60 percent. No price relief in the price of gas or oil because those prices are set on the world market. It is just not worth it."
The measure was contained in an amendment to an overall energy bill, which still awaits Senate action.
But the issue is not over. Last year, the House of Representatives approved opening ANWR to oil drilling as part of its passage of the energy bill. Once the Senate passes its energy legislation, the two bills, including the ANWR provision in the House version, will have to be reconciled before final legislation is sent to President Bush for his signature.