US Republicans optimistic House will consider ANWR leasing provision

US House Republican leaders are striking a more optimistic tone on the possibility that Congress will open a portion of the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. They say a floor vote is possible, although observers doubt the measure would pass.

By the OGJ Online Staff

WASHINGTON, DC, July 18 -- US House Republican leaders are striking a more optimistic tone on the possibility that Congress will open a portion of the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling.

"We're down to reality now," said House Resources Committee Chairman James Hansen (R-Utah) Wednesday. He said that earlier votes by the House to restrict drilling, such as a proposal to ban drilling in national monuments, "is out of everyone's system now."

Hansen's committee voted largely along party lines to approve the ANWR proposal as part of HR 1324, the Energy Security Act.

Another GOP leader, Billy Tauzin (R-La.), chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, also predicted there would be a floor vote on ANWR, although he acknowledged the outcome of the vote was uncertain.

Other supporters were much more enthusiastic about the possibility of ANWR drilling being enacted.

"When this bill passes both houses of Congress in September, we will be planning how we are going to start a plan for drilling," said Jerry Hood, special energy assistant to the Teamsters Union president.

Interior Sec. Gale Norton also recommitted support from the White House on opening ANWR, saying it was a key portion of President George W. Bush's energy blueprint.

However, she said her department still has reservations about a provision in Hansen's bill that would extend deepwater royalty relief. Interior supports royalty relief in ultradeep waters of 800 m or more but not for shallower waters.

Norton, however, indicated that she would "work with lawmakers" on the issue, indicating a compromise was possible.

Congressional leaders privately have suggested ANWR is a political nonstarter, since a strong coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans oppose drilling in the northeastern Alaska reserve.

Even if the House passes an ANWR leasing provision, the chances are slim it could survive in the Senate, congressional sources say.

ANWR supporters insist there is still a good possibility ANWR could be legislated as part of a larger energy package. One scenario suggested is that House Republican leaders might be willing to expand fuel efficiency standards beyond the 1-5 mpg increase now on the table for minivans and sports utility vehicles if an ANWR provision was retained.

"There is a lot of horse trading still to be done," said one industry lobbyist. "It's not over until it's over."

Committee action
Late Tuesday, the House Committee on Resources reported the ANWR leasing bill on a 26-17 vote.

Drilling opponents unsuccessfully sought to substitute their own energy proposal, but it failed largely along party lines. A provision sponsored by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) to ban oil companies from exporting future ANWR oil passed.

Other amendments offered by Democrats failed, leaving the proposal similar to how Republican House leaders drafted it (OGJ Online, July 9, 2001). Along with ANWR, the bill would extend deepwater royalty relief, encourage the use of royalty in-kind payments for production from federal lands, and force the US Forest Service to consult with the Interior Department when considering drilling bans in "roadless" areas.

Some observers were pessimistic for the bill's chances on the floor, since the House has signaled antileasing sentiment in two spending bills. Amendments to the Interior and Energy and Water appropriations bills postpone eastern Gulf of Mexico Sale 181 and ban future drilling in the Great Lakes (OGJ Online, June 28, 2001).

In the Democratic-controlled Senate, leaders have vowed to strip ANWR provisions from pending bills. The Senate has been less rigid so far about other drilling; it defeated attempts to block Lease Sale 181. Another provision to ban Great Lakes drilling was pending.

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