Bush Ties Renewable Energy Funds to ANWR Drilling

Opponents of drilling in ANWR say there are still enough Senate votes to block drilling.

Published: 02-Feb-2003

ident Bush's new budget anticipates $2.4 billion in oil lease sales in
the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by 2005, with half the money to be
spent to research solar, wind, geothermal and other alternative energy, an
assistant secretary said Friday.

The proposal to spend $1.2 billion in lease sales on research of renewable
energies _ part of Bush's pending budget blueprint for fiscal year 2004 _
should help temper opposition to drilling in arctic Alaska, said Rebecca
Watson, assistant interior secretary for land and minerals management.

"One would hope that it would,"Watson told The Associated Press. She said
it was the first time the administration had proposed spending the proceeds
from the oil sales directly on alternative power research.

"It fits with the president's national energy policy, which is a balanced
approach looking at increasing domestic fossil fuels but also looking ahead
to renewable energy,"she said in a telephone interview from Washington.

"Renewable energy faces some hurdles from a financial standpoint so it
needs some more money for research. This type of a proposal would be a big
boost,"she said.

Last year, the Republican-led House approved opening ANWR to drilling but
the proposal died in the Democratic-run Senate. This year, both chambers
are controlled by Republicans and the measure is back on the White House's
agenda.

Critics of the drilling swiftly denounced the idea of sweetening the pot
with more than $1 billion for research in renewable energy.

"It is ridiculous to pretend the only way to have renewable energy is to
drill in the arctic,"said Bruce Hamilton, national conservation director
for the Sierra Club.

"Anybody with an environmental conscience can see right through it,"he said
Friday from group headquarters in San Francisco.

Even with the GOP taking over,"there isn't sufficient turnover in the
Senate to open up the Arctic unless some people who have been voting with
us decide to turn against us,"Hamilton said.

"There will be a number of people who voted against the drilling last round
who will be under extreme pressure to switch their vote,"he said.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., is a big backer of geothermal energy in Nevada and
loud opponent of ANWR drilling and would not change his position even with
the money for more research, his press secretary Tessa Hafen said.

Reid intends to reintroduce legislation this year that would provide a
production tax credit as an incentive for geothermal power, Hafen said.

"There are lots of ways of boosting renewables without tying it to
something with ANWR,"she said."It does not have to be either or."

Aides to Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski in
Anchorage _ two supporters of ANWR drilling _ said Friday there was no one
immediately available to comment.

The Bureau of Land Management's current budget invests $1.5 million in
renewable energy, including solar, wind, geothermal and others _ double
what it spent the previous year, Watson said.

Bush's new budget for FY 2004 beginning Oct. 1, 2003, proposes another
$550,000 increase dedicated to geothermal power, Watson said. An $300,000
increase also is planned to facilitate wind and solar power on public land,
she said.

"It is welcome support,"she said."You can see that $1.2 billion would be an
enormous jump start."

"Just in my time here there has been quite a bit of increased interest in
geothermal, especially in California and Nevada,"said Watson, a Montana
lawyer who joined the administration a year ago.

"Right now, geothermal provides about 5 percent of California's total
electricity. If California was a country, it would be the fifth largest in
the world, so that is not insignificant,"she said.

Interior Secretary Gale Norton toured a geothermal plant near Reno last
summer, expressing President Bush's strong support for the growing
renewable energy source as a way to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

Nevada is a leading source of geothermal energy because of its numerous
mountain ranges, each bordered by underground faults that are the primary
source of the hot water that is turned into to steam to power turbines.

Norton said in July that geothermal power accounts for about 17 percent of
the nation's renewable energy _ including solar and wind power _ but only
about three-tenths of 1 percent of the total U.S. energy supply.

"That is not very much but it is a fast growing field,"she said, up from
500 megawatts of installed capacity nationally in 1973 to 2,300 megawatts
today.

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