House passes broad energy bill, narrowly approves ANWR exploration

The US House of Representatives voted 240-189 Thursday to approve a sweeping bill that contains key portions of the Bush administration's energy blueprint, including approval of leasing of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain. The Senate, controlled by Democrats, is likely to oppose some of the drilling provisions.

Maureen Lorenzetti
OGJ Online

WASHINGTON, DC, Aug. 2 -- The US House of Representatives voted 240-189 early Thursday to approve a sweeping bill containing key portions of the Bush administration's energy blueprint.

The bill retains a controversial provision that would allow leasing of the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

An amendment offered by Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.) to reject ANWR leasing was defeated 222-206. As passed, the bill approves leasing of the coastal plain under conditions first proposed in the Committee on Resources and later amended.

An amendment in committee bans the sale of ANWR oil outside the US.

Two other amendments were accepted on the House floor.

One would direct federal revenue from any ANWR oil and gas production to two funds: one for renewable energy research and development and another to eliminate the maintenance and improvement backlog on federal lands.

The other amendment would limit to 2,000 acres the ANWR surface area that could be covered by oil and gas production operations.

President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney praised the historic vote on ANWR and the larger energy package when addressing a joint session of House and Senate Republicans.

"It's about promises made, and promises kept," Cheney said. "It was a tremendous vote last night."

Speaking to reporters later, Cheney said, "Some said we would never get it, but the votes were surprisingly strong."

'Tough issue'
ANWR proponents on and off Capitol Hill called the vote a major victory and said they were optimistic their provision would become law this fall.

"The House made the right decision tonight on a tough issue. Rarely have I seen a provision demagogued so ferociously," said Committee on Resources Chairman James Hansen (R-Utah).

"Men and women on both sides of the aisle saw past the passion and the rhetoric to the facts, the science, and the common sense of the proposal. I applaud my colleagues' judgment and courage. They made the right choice for American consumers, American workers, America's economy, and America's energy future."

Echoing Hansen's comments were industry groups that have been seeking to open the region for decades.

"The opposition said ANWR was a dead issue, and they were wrong," said Roger Herrera of Arctic Power, a lobby group. "The fact is that since 1987 there have been 16 votes in Congress on ANWR, and we have won every one.

"We're also encouraged by the support we received from 36 Democrats. Both Democrats and Republicans have recognized the need to expand energy supply and reduce our dependence on foreign oil imports."

In contrast to the House vote and the White House's support, the Democratic Senate leadership is reluctant to approve ANWR leasing. And environmental groups remain firmly opposed.

"While we are profoundly disappointed that the House turned its back on the pristine arctic refuge and the will of the American people, we are optimistic as the fight heads to the Senate," said Carl Pope, executive director for the Sierra Club. "Big Oil called out their big guns and their big money on this vote.

"Drilling in the arctic refuge won't address our nation's energy needs or make a dent in gas prices. Instead of destroying this fragile tundra, Americans want a balanced approach that gives us quicker, cleaner, cheaper, and safer solutions, such as energy-efficient technologies, renewable power, and responsible production."

Proponents and opponents of ANWR leasing said that a key to the outcome of the ANWR vote in the House was endorsement of organized labor.

A Democratic energy bill pending in the Senate does not approve ANWR leasing. It is seen as unlikely the body would approve a final bill that contained a leasing provision.

Industry and environmental groups agree it is too early to be declaring victory.

"Everything is still on the table," said one industry lobbyist before this morning's ANWR vote. "It's too early to tell what a final bill will look like."

Much will depend on what House and Senate leaders determine is the public's mood on energy issues in general. Both parties plan to conduct extensive polls during the month-long recess that begins next week. Some Democratic strategists are hoping that recent polls that suggest the Bush administration is seen as too pro-industry on energy policy will work in their favor this fall.

CAFE, clean fuels addressed
ANWR was just one of several contentious issues addressed by the House during more than 12 hours of debate.

Democrats, joined by moderate Republicans, offered amendments proposing to raise fuel efficiency standards of sport utility vehicles to those of cars. They also offered two provisions designed to ease California's energy problems. One would allow the state to opt out of the oxygen requirement of reformulated gasoline. The other proposal would impose wholesale price caps in Western markets.

Those amendments failed, an outcome that industry lobbyists attributed to efforts by Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.). He largely scripted the bill away from the House floor and organized town meetings for lawmakers and members of the administration to sell the proposal to voters.

Along with ANWR leasing, the bill offers provisions seeking to streamline public land management, provides royalty holidays in the Gulf of Mexico to stimulate domestic production, gives the Secretary of Interior a voice in controlling how and when the US Forest Service should allow drilling on some public land, and expands the authority of the Department of the Interior to direct funds toward royalty in-kind programs.

The bill's public land and royalty measures are largely supported by the Bush administration, although the secretary of Interior has not committed to fully supporting all the deepwater royalty provisions.

Another controversial section of the bill would provide $34 billion in energy tax incentives over a 10-year period, with an estimated $13 billion earmarked for the oil and gas industry. The other money is split between renewable energy and energy reliability measures.

About $8 billion of the money earmarked for oil and gas would be earmarked for marginal production. Lawmakers say the White House endorsed the entire tax package despite a cost that administration officials previously indicated was too high (OGJ Online, Aug. 1, 2001). The White House energy blueprint does not seek new tax breaks for the oil industry.

The cost of those tax breaks is expected to dominate the energy debate as attention shifts to the Senate, which will address a comprehensive bill this fall after Congress returns from the summer recess.

Democrats in the House and in the Senate are already insisting that the industry does not need, nor can the country afford, tax breaks for oil production. Democrats sought but failed to pass an amendment that would not allow any tax incentives to be enacted unless budget makers can show money would not have to be borrowed from the Social Security or Medicare trust funds.

"They are setting up an oil field on top of Social Security," said Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a strong opponent of the House bill. "And they are going to build a pipeline into the pockets of the senior citizens of our country."

Contact Maureen Lorenzetti at

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