WASHINGTON — For a quarter-century, environmentalists have succeeded in blocking efforts to drill for oil in what they consider a pristine, cherished patch of tundra in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
But with sky-high fuel prices and a wider Republican majority in Congress, their long fight to keep oil companies out of the refuge looked to be in trouble. Then they got some help from an unexpected place: House Republicans angry over cuts to social programs.
House leaders put off plans Thursday to vote on the budget-cutting package because of opposition to issues unrelated to the Alaska refuge — deep cuts in Medicaid, food stamps and student loans. The leaders earlier were forced to jettison the Alaska drilling provision from the bill after a group of GOP moderates said they would not vote for the budget if ANWR were included.
They also dropped from the budget document plans to allow states to authorize oil and gas drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts — regions currently under a drilling moratorium.