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Associated Press
April 3, 2003

House GOP Revives Prospect of Oil Drilling in Alaska Wildlife Refuge

by H. Josef Hebert

WASHINGTON -- House Republicans are reviving President Bush's top
energy priority - opening an Alaska wildlife refuge to oil drilling -
although the Senate already has rejected it. The refuge provision was
among a package of energy proposals that were moving swiftly through
several House committees Wednesday with expectations that the full
House might take them up as early as next week.

Republicans included oil development in Alaska's Arctic National
Wildlife Refuge as part of a broader package of energy proposals
approved Wednesday by the Resources Committee.

Lawmakers said they expected an energy bill to be voted on by the
full House, possibly as early as next week.

The Senate will not begin writing a detailed energy bill until next
week, although a proposal for $15.5 billion in energy tax incentives
also was approved by the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday.

The House was to take up energy tax issues Thursday.

As separate House committees crafted various parts of the energy
package, it became clear that the push to open the Arctic National
Wildlife Refuge was far from over, although the Senate two weeks ago
rejected a drilling proposal 52-48.

"We're talking about a very small amount of land," Rep. Don Young,
R-Alaska, said shortly before the House Resources Committee passed a
package of energy measures that included opening the Alaska refuge to
oil companies.

"This nation needs the oil," he said.

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., argued that drilling in ANWR's 1.5 million
acre coastal plain would "ruin the jewel of the national wildlife
refuge system" and said more oil could be save if the government
imposed tougher fuel economy requirements on automobiles.

But hours later, in another committee, a Markey proposal was rejected
that would have forced automakers to make more fuel efficient cars by
requiring a 10 percent reduction in gasoline use.

The Resource panel passed a series of financial incentives aimed at
spurring production of oil, natural gas and coal.

The bill would allow producers to forego paying federal royalties
when developing deep offshore wells in search of natural gas in the
Gulf of Mexico and off Alaska, remove limits on how many acres coal
companies may lease and require the government to reimburse energy
companies for the cost of meeting environmental reviews.

Rep. Nick Rahall, D-West Virginia, called it "a buffet table" for the
oil and gas industry.

"Robin Hood is turning in his grave," said Rahall, but a Democratic
attempt to gut some of the royalty benefits was defeated 27-15.

Republicans called the industry incentives necessary to spur domestic
energy production and get producers to drill high-risk wells. With a
war in Iraq, "doesn't it make sense for us to adopt some sensible
policies that will boost our energy security?" argued Rep. Richard
Pombo, R-California, the Resource panel's chairman.

Meanwhile, the House Energy and Commerce Committee, working until
nearly midnight Wednesday, wrapped up other parts of the energy
package.

The legislation would require refiners to use at least 5 billion
gallons a year of corn-based ethanol in gasoline by 2015, a mandate
that is expected to be a boon to corn farmers. The industry now
produces about 2.5 billion gallons annually.

When Rep. Lois Capps, D-California, sought to also ban MTBE, another
gasoline additive, that has been widely blamed for contaminating
drinking water, her amendment was turned back, 32-18. Instead,
lawmakers approved liability protection for MTBE manufactures who
might face environmental lawsuits.

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, whose district includes MTBE manufacturers,
said the refiners turned to MTBE because of federal clean air rules,
and should not be penalized. Numerous states already are moving to
phase out MTBE use because of environmental concerns, he said.

The House legislation also would:

* Give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission authority to order
the taking of private land for power line construction if a state
does not act.

* Streamline federal approval of hydroelectric dams.

* Rescind a Depression-era law that restricted certain mergers among
large power holding companies. Consumer groups argued the law
shouldn't be scrapped unless FERC is given more authority to deal
with merger abuses.