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ANWR off-limits to oil, for now

WASHINGTON - The Alaska National Wildlife Refuge will remain off-limits to oil and gas exploration and development if Pete Domenici can be taken at his word.

The Senate Republican from New Mexico has repeatedly stated that he will not include ANWR provisions in the Energy Policy Act of 2003 if doing so would doom the national energy bill, as it did last year. In September, 45 Democratic and Republican senators sent Domenici a letter stating their opposition to any national energy bill that would include ANWR provisions.

Their opposition would doom an energy bill under almost any scenario, though it should be noted that the overall energy bill remains "fluid" in the congressional term of art meaning "highly subject to change."

A number of senators had hoped to pass the bill by the end of September; as a voting date, now probably in October, draws nearer, a fluid bill is one with a healthy number of bargaining chips to be played out around it - that is, various provisions in the bill may be traded off for other considerations in this or another bill.

Title III of the national energy bill contains provisions that would enable tribes to streamline the approval process for energy development projects on reservations. Those provisions, brought forward by Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado and backed by his fellow Republicans in the Senate, emerged intact from a conference committee convened to negotiate compromise between the House and Senate versions of the bill. But Democrats, who oppose the provisions as a dilution of the federal-tribal trust relationship and an open door to advantage-taking against tribes and environmental degradation, also gained something as the conference agreed to language that reiterates the federal trust responsibility toward tribes.

In addition, the conference draft of Title III strengthens federal authority over third parties a tribe may do business with under streamlined procedures.

Dan Pfeiffer, press secretary to Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said the Senate Minority Leader still has concerns with Title III, which he went to conference opposing. He still doesn't share the "rosy view" of Title III proponents, Pfeiffer said. The revised bill doesn't contain environmental protections for Indian and adjacent lands, and it doesn't demand asset evaluations prior to a development project.

Pfeiffer added that there is no telling about further changes to Title III until the proposed Energy Policy Act of 2003 can be seen in its entirety.