This vote was on an amendment by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., that would have allowed drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and in offshore coastal waters that are currently subject to a federal moratorium on drilling. It also would have suspended oil acquisition for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) for 180 days. The SPR is a series of salt dome caverns underneath the Gulf Coast where America has been stockpiling oil in the event of an emergency. The amendment was offered to an unrelated bill that would establish a national flood insurance program.
McConnell’s amendment was a response to a Democratic amendment offered to the same bill that would suspend deliveries to the SPR as long as oil costs more than $75 per barrel (which is only a little more than half as much as the price of oil when the amendment was considered). Democrats and Republicans alike contended that it was foolish to continue to purchase oil to fill the SPR during a time of record oil prices, and that the practice could be helping to inflate prices.
But President Bush has refused to stop filling the SPR, and McConnell, unlike many of his Republican colleagues, sided with the White House on this issue. He argued that instead, the country should increase drilling on its own lands and only suspend oil deliveries temporarily.
Pete Domenici, R-N.M., who cosponsored the amendment with McConnell, said it would temporarily suspend deliveries into the SPR while America ramped up its oil production in other areas.
“Let’s start on ANWR. Let’s start moving on oil shale. Let’s accelerate battery research, which will move us toward automobiles that can plug in, which will be a big American boon,” Domenici said. “I believe those people interested in production should vote for the Domenici amendment and tell the American people the truth: We can produce in America and put pressure on the world markets and reduce the price of oil.”
Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said the amendment is just a mishmash of various failed Republican energy proposals and at its heart is an attempt to open more protected federal lands to drilling.
“It is not going to bring down the price of gas at the pump,” Bingaman said.
The amendment was rejected by a vote of 42-56. All but one Democrat present voted against the amendment (Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who favors increased offshore drilling). All but six Republicans present voted for the amendment. The end result is that the bill went forward without language that would have increased drilling in protected areas and temporarily halted deliveries into the SPR.