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Inslee touts vote against Arctic drilling

The Bainbridge congressman accuses the president of lying about domestic spying.

While hunting for Christmas gifts in Winslow this week, Rep. Jay Inslee was pleased to find his fellow shoppers also tend to eschew attractive packaging in favor of a good, skeptical shake.

“I was buying some gifts downtown and people were coming up to me and were amazingly cognizant about this scheme, this raid on the Arctic wildlife refuge under the cover of a defense bill,” the Bainbridge Island Democrat said.

Leave it to a congressman to mix holiday shopping with talk of opening Santa’s back yard to oil drilling through a military-spending bill.

Inslee voted against the measure, which passed the House Monday but died in the Senate two days later, because it included a provision that would open Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration.

“It was a great victory for common sense and for people who want to see a technically innovative energy policy rather than drilling in one of the most pristine areas of our country,” he said.

Home to millions of musk oxen, caribou, polar bears and migratory birds, the 19 million-acre refuge in northeast Alaska was created in 1980 as an expansion of the 9 million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Range, established in 1960.

Energy companies and the Bush administration have long pushed for access to an estimated 6 billion to 16 billion barrels of oil believed hidden underneath ANWAR’s coastal plain.

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), the provision’s primary sponsor, said drilling in the Arctic is a matter of national security and would reduce the nation’s reliance on foreign oil.

Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell rounded up a contingent of Democrats to halt the oil drilling provision Wednesday. She characterized the measure as a “sweetheart deal” for oil companies.

The earlier vote in the House saw less cohesiveness among the state’s House Democrats. Rep. Norm Dicks and Rep. Rick Larsen voted in favor of the bill while Inslee was joined by Democrats Brian Baird, Jim McDermott and Adam Smith in the “no” column.

Dicks and Larsen have expressed opposition to oil drilling in ANWAR, but may have felt the pull of large military bases in their districts.

In a news release, Dicks said the $453 billion defense bill included funds for the conversion of Puget Sound Naval Shipyard’s Trident submarines, new equipment for troops at Fort Lewis and money for several Boeing aircraft. The bill also came with a 3 percent pay boost for military personnel.

As Inslee expected, the bill came back to the House stripped of its oil drilling provision and was approved Thursday.

“Every district has many thousands of people that are pulling for our troops,” Inslee said. “We all pray for and respect their efforts. If they’re brave enough to fight over in Iraq then we should be brave enough to fight against drilling in the Arctic. I had to stand up and fight.”

Inslee went against the Congressional grain with another significant piece of legislation last week when he opposed the renewal of the Patriot Act.

“There are many flaws in the Patriot Act,” Inslee said. “I don’t support the library (records) search provision and the sneak-and-peak provision that essentially allows the FBI to bug your computer.”

Inslee supported the Patriot Act when it was proposed shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Crafted by the Bush admini­stration, the act makes it easier for the federal government to conduct secret searches on U.S. citizens, monitor e-mails, listen in on telephone conversations and obtain personal documents.

Inslee cites many instances in which he believes the act has been abused, including one case in which the FBI zeroed in on a college student whose library record listed a book about China’s communist revolution.

“The kid checked out Mao Tse-Tung’s ‘Little Red Book’ for research and ended up with two FBI agents on his doorstep,” Inslee said. “That’s unnecessary and causes more fear and concern than security. I’ve seen that over and over again.”

The anti-terrorism act’s renewal passed the House despite Inslee’s “no” vote, but faced fierce opposition in the Senate. A six-month extension of the Patriot Act was approved by the Senate Wednesday to keep the law from expiring at the end of 2005. The temporary extention was reduced to one month when it returned to the House on Thursday.

Inslee predicts Democrats and some Republicans will work for changes in the near future. In the meantime, he believes Bush will first have to contend with a bigger civil liberties battle. The Congressman believes Bush “willfully violated the law” when he authorized a domestic spying program that dodges U.S. courts and privacy laws.

Inslee charges that Bush sidestepped the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which made it illegal to spy on citizens in the United States without getting a court order.

Bush gave federal agents authority to spy on domestic communications without such approval. The president recently stood by the decision and said he would authorize similar actions if he deems them necessary for national security.

“The president said he’s the king and can ignore the clear mandates of the law,” Inlsee said. “I’m extremely concerned that he thinks he’s above the law. There will be a confrontation on this. It will not stand.”

Inslee wouldn’t specify what kind of confrontation loomed.

“I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but Congress needs to know what happened,” he said. “We were told falsehoods by the president. He told us in 2004 he wasn’t doing this, that he wasn’t engaging in warrentless searches. He can’t just breach the law.”

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