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Coming Sunday: A special report on ANWR and issues surrounding proposals to open it to drilling will be featured in Sunday's Juneau Empire.
WASHINGTON - A bill that would open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling cleared its first congressional committee Tuesday, but the measure's future is far from certain.
The House Resources Committee, by a vote of 26-17, approved the ANWR provision as part of a Republican energy bill that would also provide financial incentives for other types of energy development.
U.S. Rep. Don Young, an Alaska Republican, said billions of barrels of oil are under the coastal plain of the refuge, on Alaska's North Slope and just 74 miles from the existing trans-Alaska pipeline system. Meanwhile, he said, America is sending money overseas to buy foreign oil, leaving the nation vulnerable.
"With modern technology, we can produce this oil for the good of this nation," Young said.
Democrats on the committee tried to strike the ANWR section, called Title 5, from the bill.
"Title 5 would end the pristine wilderness condition of the refuge and replace it with the industrial trappings of oil development a huge pipeline, smaller feeder pipelines, drill pads and haul roads and gathering facilities and leaky valves," said Rep. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat.
The area that would be drilled, the coastal plain, is critical habitat for the Porcupine caribou herd, which each summer performs "one of the last great migratory miracles of nature," Markey said.
The country would not need to drill in the refuge if it raised vehicle fuel efficiency standards by only two miles per gallon, he said.
Young, who has said drilling could be done without significantly damaging the environment, told Markey he could hardly stand to listen to his argument.
"My biggest challenge today is not to either (start) crying or laughing at the last presentation. ... Mr. Markey, I do not believe you've ever been to ANWR, have you?"
Markey has not.
The move to strike the ANWR section failed 19-30. A raft of other Democratic amendments also failed. A handful of Democrats voted with the Republicans and some Republican moderates did not vote on the final bill.
Drilling opponents said they are confident the provision to open ANWR will be scuttled when energy legislation comes before the full House. The provision's future in the Democratic-led Senate is also uncertain.
"This is just the opening shot," said Rep. George Miller, a California Democrat and a staunch opponent of lifting a congressional ban on oil development in the refuge.