ANWR still in the cross-hairs as Congress reconvenes

WASHINGTON - As if the maneuvering around a national energy bill were not intense enough before the August recess, it has only intensified since then.

A novel compromise on energy was the last business Congress conducted before its annual break, with Republicans in the Senate they control agreeing to pass last year's Democratic energy package. That compromise bill will go to a conference committee between Senate and House members who will try to hash out differences between their respective positions, possibly by the end of September.

The mid-August electricity outages that reached from Detroit to New York have galvanized Congress to act, as they highlighted critical shortcomings of the national energy distribution system.

Nonetheless, the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge may remain the most contested item of the conference committee agenda, as it was last year. This year's House bill contains provisions that would open the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration. Over the congressional recess, President George W. Bush's insistence on these provisions in any final bill became public knowledge.

As lawmakers trickled back into Washington last week, it was too early to tell whether the president's demand would be sustained all the way to a vote, according to Daniel Pfeifer, press officer for Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D. He added that the Senate has voted down access to ANWR energy resources on several previous occasions.