House Endorses Drilling in Alaska Refuge

By The Associated Press

4/11/03


WASHINGTON - The dispute over oil drilling in an Alaska wildlife refuge has returned to the congressional energy debate.

The House made certain late Thursday that its energy bill will include lifting a congressional ban on developing the billions of barrels of oil that lie beneath the coastal tundra of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Only three weeks ago, the Senate rejected drilling in the refuge. Senate Republicans have said it's unlikely the issue will be included in their energy legislation because of a certain Democratic filibuster that would take 60 votes to overcome.

But in the House it's another matter. An amendment to strip the refuge drilling language from the energy bill was rejected 228-197 as lawmakers moved rapidly through nearly two dozen amendments and expected final approval of the bill Friday.

Full of incentives to spur energy development, the House bill came under attack from dozens of lawmakers both Democrats and moderate Republicans for not doing enough to promote energy conservation and efficiency. It contains nothing to promote less fuel use by automobiles and sport utility vehicles, although they account for 40 percent of the oil that is used, the critics argued.

"How can we be silent on auto fuel efficiency if this bill is going to do anything at all?" asked Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y. His amendment to boost auto fuel economy by 5 percent was defeated 268-162.

Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., the bill's floor leader, said the comprehensive energy package "advances a balanced approach to energy production and use" including "substantial" measures to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy sources.

While much of the attention has focused on high-profile issues such as the Alaska refuge and auto fuel economy, the legislation also has a pile of incentives both as tax breaks and suspensions of federal royalty payments that will benefit oil and gas developers, electric utilities, coal companies and nuclear industry and coal companies.

Among the provisions:

* Tax breaks of $18.7 billion over 10 years, much of it incentives for oil and gas development.

* A requirement to double the use of the use of corn-based ethanol to 5 billion gallons a year by 2015 in gasoline, a boon to farmers and the ethanol industry.

*A $1.8 billion program to promote development of hydrogen as a fuel for cars and electricity production.

*A measure that lets companies avoid federal royalty payments on natural gas taken from very deep wells in the Gulf of Mexico.

*Authority for federal energy regulators to direct the siting of electric power lines if states fail to do so.

* A streamlining of the licensing process for hydroelectric dams.


The bill "gives away billions of dollars to powerful industries courtesy of the taxpayer," complained Rep. John Dingell , D-Mich.

Homeowners would get a $2,000 tax break for installing solar heating systems, but a prevision to give a similar credit for purchase of hybrid gas-electric automobiles an incentive touted by the White House was not included.

While the expansion of ethanol use in gasoline has widespread support among both Democrats and Republicans, Rep. Rick Boucher , D-Va., predicted it will force up gasoline prices. Other lawmakers complained the bill would allow continued use of another gasoline additive, MTBE, that has contaminated groundwater in many states. Instead, the legislation includes liability protection to MTBE manufacturers in case of environmental lawsuits.

In an attempt to gain support from GOP moderates, the House added restrictions Thursday night that would limit the total area for oil development in ANWR to 2,000 acres. Critics said the limits were misleading because the acres could be spread, like a spider web, across the entire 1.5 million-acre coastal plain that holds the oil.

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., sponsor of the anti-drilling amendment, criticized putting that oil "into SUVs that get 10 to 13 miles a gallon." If lawmakers are unwilling to improve auto fuel economy "we have no right to jeopardize a pristine wilderness that should be preserved for the next generation," he said.

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, says those who argue against developing the refuge's oil don't have the facts and have not visited the area on Alaska's North Slope, just east of the oil-rich Prudhoe Bay fields.

 

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