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Conservation funds removed from defense spending bill

Farmers had more at stake in the latest attempt to authorize oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge than they may have realized - $1 billion in conservation program spending to be exact.

The $900 million was removed from the defense appropriations bill conference report Wednesday night after Senate Democrats and a small group of Republicans forced Republican leaders to delete the ANWR provision from the report.

Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens had offered an amendment to the $453.3 billion defense spending bill that would have authorized drilling in the ANWR and provided $900 million for USDA-administered conservation programs and $100 million for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act.

The latter was intended to help persuade environmentalists to go along with Stevens’s efforts to end the drilling prohibition, according to a Senate staffer. Stevens has been trying to open up the Refuge for drilling for 25 years.

Stevens thought opponents of ANWR drilling would not attempt to hold up the defense appropriations bill, which includes payroll funding for the U.S. military and for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But Democrats and a handful of Republicans threatened to block consideration of the bill unless the ANWR provision was removed. The Republican leadership could not come up with the 60 votes needed to cut off debate on ANWR.

The conservation funding would have been funded from a portion of the government sale of TV frequency space of the broadcast spectrum as long as those sales generated a certain amount of money. Other programs added at Sen. Stevens request would have received money from the federal government’s share of oil drilling revenues.

The latter included $3.1 billion for first responders and other homeland security needs and $5 billion for Gulf Coast recovery efforts. The latter would have committed 50 percent to Louisiana, 25 percent to Mississippi, 10 percent to Alabama, 10 percent to Texas, and 5 percent to Florida.

Senate leaders were awaiting the House's decision on whether it would to agree to its changes to the bill and tentatively scheduled a session at 8 p.m. tonight in the event it did not. e-mail: [email protected]

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