WASHINGTON - The House is moving swiftly to enact energy legislation, hoping to revive a proposal for oil drilling in an Alaska wildlife refuge and, in a boon to farmers, expand the use of ethanol as a gasoline additive.
Both provisions were included Wednesday as separate committees crafted key parts of the energy legislation. 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 today.
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-W.Va., 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-Calif., 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-Calif., 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.
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