WASHINGTON -- The House voted late yesterday 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 also calls for $8.1 billion in tax breaks over 10 years, most of it going to promote the coal, nuclear, oil and natural-gas industries.
Development of the Alaska refuge has been a contentious issue for nearly a decade. Senate Democrats have pledged to filibuster any energy bill that would open the refuge to oil companies.
An amendment to strip the Alaska refuge provision from the House energy bill failed last night 231-200.
Washington state Democrats Brian Baird of Olympia, Norm Dicks of Bremerton, Jay Inslee of Bainbridge Island, Rick Larsen of Lake Stevens, Jim McDermott of Seattle and Adam Smith of Tacoma voted for the amendment, as did Republican Dave Reichert of Bellevue.
Republicans Doc Hastings of Pasco and Cathy McMorris of Spokane voted against it.
A final vote on the energy legislation is expected today.
Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who offered the ANWR amendment, noted that the bill does nothing to improve the fuel economy of automobiles, which he said use 70 percent of the country's oil.
An attempt to require automakers to increase fuel economy to a fleet average of 33 miles per gallon over the next decade was defeated 254-177.
President Bush yesterday urged Congress to give him an energy bill by summer, including a go-ahead for oil exploration in the Alaska refuge. He said that the oil can be recovered "with almost no impact on land and local wildlife" and that ANWR's production would amount to nearly half the oil the United States now gets from Venezuela.
Speaking to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Bush said he wished he "could wave a magic wand and lower gas prices tomorrow" but said the nation's energy problems took years to develop and are "not going to be solved overnight."
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."
The House bill also would make it easier to build liquefied natural-gas import terminals, even if states or local communities oppose the project, and require refiners to use more corn-based ethanol in gasoline.
It also would extend daylight-saving time and protect makers of the gasoline additive MTBE from product-liability lawsuits stemming to the chemical's contamination of drinking water.
© 2005 The Associated Press