Wildlife reprieve in frozen north as US drops Arctic drilling plans

Plans to open up the vast Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to companies drilling for gas and oil have been dropped by Congress as Bush faces a backlash from moderate Republicans.

Polar bears are among the hundreds of species protected in the park

Polar bears are among the hundreds of species protected in the park

The drilling in the publically-owned Alaskan park would have been opened up as a possibility under a US$54 billion deficit reduction bill.

But the Bush-backed plan, supported by the powerful oil lobby, has been derailed by Congressmen from his own party unwilling to see one of the last remaining strongholds of Arctic and Sub-Arctic species exploited for its natural resources.

The plan was abandoned after Republican Charles Bass, Congressman for New Hampshire and a keen conservationist, collected signatures from other members of the lower house to a letter calling for support of renewable energy and alternative fuels rather than reverse decades of protection for the ANWR.

Mr Bass said that apart from legitimate concerns about the ANWR itself, there was a thin end of the wedge argument that said if the northern wilderness was opened up for commercial exploitation protection of the other great parks of America would become meaningless.

Rodger Schlickeisen, president of conservation pressure group Defenders of Wildlife which has been lobbying against the drilling welcomed news of the victory but warned that Congress now faces the challenge of persuading the Senate to also drop the wording that makes drilling possible from its version of the bill.

"The House leadership finally realized that including language in the budget bill opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling only doomed it to failure," he said.

"While we're not out of the woods yet, we have every reason to believe that these pragmatic Members of Congress will continue to demonstrate strong leadership on this issue and, if necessary, vote against any final House-Senate Reconciliation Bill agreement that includes the Arctic Refuge."

By Sam Bond



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