ALASKA SENATORS COULD STALL TRADE BILL OVER OIL

ALASKA SENATORS COULD STALL TRADE BILL OVER OIL

Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, is threatening to filibuster against the giant omnibus trade bill because of a provision that limits exports of oil

from his state.

At the outset of debate on the bill Friday, Sen. Murkowski said he and fellow Alaska Republican Ted Stevens might fight the bill by opposing a routine motion to dispense with the reading of the bill.The bill is nearly 1,000 pages long and is accompanied by a 3,000-page explanation.

Sens. Murkowski and Stevens are furious over a provision in the bill, sponsored by Rep. Howard Wolpe, D-Mich., which limits the export of Alaskan refined petroleum products to no more than 70,000 barrels a day.

Crude oil from Alaska's North Slope cannot be exported by law.

It's an injustice to pick out one state and exclude it from exporting oil, Sen. Murkowski said. It would be like saying that steel can be shipped from Pittsburgh but not from West Virginia. To say I'm indignant is an understatement.

If this happened to any other state they'd be out there reading the bill right now.

He accused one of the provision's key supporters, Rep. Don Bonker, D- Wash., of bending to pressure from maritime unions who fear that export of Alaskan oil would mean the loss of jobs for U.S. seamen.

A staffer for Rep. Bonker conceded the maritime industry opposed the provision, but said pressure from shipping interests was not the principal reason for the congressman's support.

The reason for this provision is that it's an attempt to get around the loophole on the ban of Alaskan exports, the staffer said.

The exports in question would be refined in Valdez, Alaska, and shipped to Japan and other Pacific Rim nations.

If there were not restrictions (on oil exports from Alaska) there's no way this refinery would have been built there (in Valdez), the staffer said.

But Sen. Murkowski said it didn't make sense to limit exports of oil at a time when the United States is running huge trade deficits.

We preach open markets and then take an isolated case and exclude an effort to try and make a contribution to the economy and the trade imbalances. It's inconsistent, he said.

Sen. Murkowski said he and Sen. Stevens had put the filibuster process in motion and were prepared to carry out their threats. Whether the threat is carried out depends on the number of senators who vote to support the trade bill.

If the votes are there to sustain a presidential veto, Sen. Murkowski said, he would abandon the veto motion.

A minority of at least one-third of voting members is needed to override a veto.