WASHINGTON – The Senate on Wednesday rejected oil drilling in an Alaska wildlife refuge, handing the Bush administration a defeat on one of its top energy priorities.
Despite intense lobbying by pro-drilling senators and the White House in the hours leading up to the vote, Democrats mustered the support needed to remove a refuge drilling provision from a budget resolution expected to be approved later this week.
The vote on an amendment offered by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., to strip away the provision passed 52-48.
Before the vote, senators on both sides predicted it would be extremely close.
Development of the millions of barrels of oil beneath the 100-mile coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern Alaska has been a key part of President Bush's energy plan. However, environmentalists contend drilling there would jeopardize a pristine area valued for its wildlife.
All but five Democrats voted against refuge drilling. There were eight Republicans who joined the Democrats in favor of barring oil companies from the refuge.
With one or two senators holding the balance, both sides stepped up their lobbying to try to sway anyone thinking of shifting their allegiance. The vote appeared to tighten when freshman Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., under intense pressure, signaled he might vote in favor of drilling. But in the end, Coleman, who succeed the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, an ardent opponent of drilling, sided with the Democrats.
And GOP leaders couldn't get the additional two votes they desperately needed.