Washington, DC — (AP) Rep. Mark Kennedy, an opponent of drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, voted for a defense bill Monday that authorizes it.
"I have consistently and repeatedly opposed drilling in ANWR," Kennedy, R-Minn., said in a statement. "However, it would be the height of irresponsibility to vote against a bill that funds our troops and our military while our nation is at war."
Kennedy is running for Senate next year and ANWR is likely to be an issue in the campaign, as it was in the last Minnesota Senate race.
In 2002, then-candidate Norm Coleman pledged to oppose efforts to drill in ANWR. On Monday, the Minnesota senator said he was undecided on how he would vote on the defense bill, which the Senate is likely to take up this week.
Kennedy issued a statement Saturday night saying he was "outraged" that GOP leaders included the drilling provision in the defense bill, and that he would do all he could to strip it from the legislation.
"Including ANWR in this bill is nothing but a cheap trick to exploit members' commitment to supporting our troops while they are at war," Kennedy said in the Saturday statement, prior to the 308-106 vote early Monday.
Meanwhile, Coleman said in a telephone interview Monday that he expected the Senate to vote on an amendment to take the oil drilling provision out of the defense bill this week.
"I certainly will be supporting that," said Coleman, a Republican.
Environmentalists say drilling would threaten the ecology of the refuge's coastal plain, which is used by caribou, polar bears, musk oxen and millions of migratory birds that land there during warmer parts of the year.
Coleman voted against a budget bill last month because it called for drilling in ANWR, and on Monday, he said his campaign pledge was important.
"On the other hand, you've got funding for troops, avian flu (prevention money) Katrina (aid) - everything but motherhood and apple pie in this bill," he said. "I think we'll have a shot on the Senate side to have a specific ANWR vote. So I'm clear on that. Beyond that, let's wait and see."
He said he wouldn't support a filibuster of the defense bill.
"We've got to have a defense bill," Coleman said.
He said he was "genuinely undecided" on how he would vote if ANWR stays in the bill, but added, "I'm angry at the way this has been handled, that we're forced to revisit this issue again and again."
Minnesota DFL Chairman Brian Melendez criticized Kennedy for his vote.
"Mark Kennedy's middle-of-the-night flip-flop further shows the people of Minnesota why we need better leadership," Melendez said in a statement. "... I can only hope that Senator Coleman can distance himself from his party's cold and strategic deceit."