House votes for oil drilling in Alaskan refuge
Stage set for clash with Senate; Bush wants energy bill by summer
The Associated Press
Updated: 10:28 p.m. ET April 20, 2005 WASHINGTON - The House voted late Wednesday to allow oil drilling in an Alaska wildlife refuge as part of a broad energy bill that Democrats said would funnel billions of dollars to highly profitable energy companies while doing little to promote conservation or ease gasoline prices.
The bill's sponsors said oil from Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, as much as a million barrels a day, will be needed to help curtail the country's growing dependence on oil imports. Opponents argued the oil wouldn't be available for a decade and even then at levels that would not significantly affect oil prices or imports.
The bill calls for $8.1 billion in tax breaks over 10 years, most of it going to promote coal, nuclear, oil and natural gas energy industries.
Final vote expected Thursday
A final vote on the energy legislation is expected by the House on Thursday.
Bush wants 'important signal'
President Bush called for Congress to give him an energy bill by this summer and "send an important signal" that the country "is serious about solving America's energy problems." Congress has failed to agree on energy legislation, despite repeated tries, during the last four years.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California accused Bush of trying to exploit people's anxiety over high gas prices to gain support for a bill that she said "was written by energy lobbyists for the benefit of the energy industry." She said it would neither lower energy prices nor curtail America's growing reliance on oil imports.
Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, the legislation's floor leader, called the bill balanced and said if it becomes law it will provide for a more diversified array of domestic energy sources from coal, oil and gas to nuclear and renewable such energy from biomass, ethanol and wind.
The $8 billion solution?
"Midterm and long term, if the bill becomes law, we'll see prices stabilized," Barton said at a news conference with Majority Leader Tom DeLay, also of Texas, who accused Democrats of being "obstructionists."
"There are those that do not want a solution, they just want the bill to fail," DeLay said.
The House bill would include more than $8.1 billion in tax breaks, almost all directed at traditional energy industries; allow oil exploration in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska; and make it easier to build liquefied natural gas import terminals, even if states or local communities oppose the project.
Some lawmakers were incensed that they could not debate on the House floor a provision in the bill that would give makers of MTBE, a gasoline additive that is contaminating drinking water, a shield against product liability lawsuits by communities facing expensive cleanup costs.
The bill gives MTBE makers "safe harbor" and will leave communities and water districts with billions of dollars in cleanup costs, said Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif., who had prepared an amendment to remove the MTBE section. She also wanted to remove a provision that gives MTBE makers, including some of the biggest oil companies, $2 billion in transition assistance as MTBE is phased out over the next nine years. GOP leaders did not accept either amendment.
Additive issue a DeLay priority
The MTBE liability issue has been a top priority for DeLay, who was instrumental in getting into the legislation a measure that would funnel $2 billion over 10 years for research into recovering oil and gas from extremely deep areas of the Gulf of Mexico.