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Senate Dems press for delay in Arctic drilling

A group of Senate Democrats are pressing Interior Secretary Sally JewellSarah (Sally) Margaret JewellBiden leans on Obama-era appointees on climate OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA declines to tighten key air pollution standards | Despite risks to polar bears, Trump pushes ahead with oil exploration in Arctic | Biden to champion climate action in 2021 OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA proposes reapproving uses of pesticide linked to brain damage in children | Hispanic caucus unhappy with transition team treatment of Lujan Grisham | Schwarzenegger backs Nichols to lead EPA MORE to delay decisions on new leasing and oil exploration in the Arctic.

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Sens. Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleySenate panel deadlocks in vote on sweeping elections bill Senate descends into hours-long fight over elections bill Senate poised for all-day brawl over sweeping elections bill MORE (D-Ore.) and Dick DurbinDick DurbinPolice reform talks hit familiar stumbling block Biden's internal polling touts public support for immigration reform The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Cheney poised to be ousted; Biden to host big meeting MORE (D-Ill.) spearheaded the letter, signed by four other senators, which calls for a temporary halt to Arctic exploration and a thorough evaluation of current drilling regulations.

"The Department of Interior‘s proposals to allow drilling activity in the Arctic Ocean have generated significant controversy and litigation, with opposition from local communities, Members of Congress, scientists, the conservation community, and the American people," the senators wrote in a letter finalized on Friday.

They pointed to the oil giant Royal Dutch Shell, which experienced a series of mishaps last year while drilling in the Arctic, including the grounding of a drilling rig and violations of air pollution permits. The administration is weighing whether to let the company resume its exploration activities.

Environmental groups say Shell's new plan to continue exploration in Arctic waters falls short of explaining how it would avoid problems it encountered during the 2012 drilling season.

"The myriad problems faced last year by Shell Oil Company as it attempted to drill exploration wells in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas demonstrated the unpredictability, harsh conditions, and heightened potential for human error that characterize any industrial activity in the Arctic Ocean," the letter states.

The senators' push is the latest in slew of lawmakers' requests for Interior to pause Arctic oil exploration.

Earlier this month, nearly 60 House Democrats sent Jewell a similar letter asking for a revamp of the department's plans for drilling and permitting.

"Shell’s mishaps, along with the announcements by ConocoPhillips and Statoil that those companies will not pursue exploration drilling in 2014, provide a welcome opportunity for your agency to re-examine whether to allow oil and gas activities in the Arctic and, if so, under what conditions," House Democrats said in the letter.