In a resounding 249-183 vote, the U.S. House of Representatives approved an energy bill April 21 that would open an Alaska wildlife refuge to oil drilling and provide benefits to energy industries. But critics say it does little to reduce the nation’s growing thirst for oil.
The bill, which came to a vote after extensive debate on several controversial provisions, will now go to conference to be reconciled with a Senate version as early as June. President Bush asked Congress April 20 to send him a complete energy package before its summer recess in August.
By a vote of 231-200, the House rejected an attempt April 20 by Democrats to strip oil drilling on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from its energy bill. The House has approved ANWR drilling twice in the past four years, only to see the issue die in the Senate both times.
Some 3,000 union members descended on Capitol Hill April 20 to lobby for ANWR drilling, a provision they believe would create more than 700,000 jobs nationwide.
Environmentalists fear drilling platforms and pipelines would harm the refuge’s abundant wildlife.
During debate April 20, Republican leaders, including U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, acknowledged that ANWR deserves protection but argued that modern drilling techniques would extract the oil without harming wildlife and the environment.
Democrats countered that ANWR development will produce few jobs and take too long to lower today’s energy prices. They described drilling on even 2,000 acres of the refuge as being equivalent to “putting a mustache on the Mona Lisa.”
The House energy bill also calls for more than $14 billion in industry tax breaks over 10 years, along with liability protections for makers of the gasoline additive MTBE, a controversial measure blamed for killing energy legislation in the Senate in 2003.