WASHINGTON -- The House tackled a broad energy bill today that would open an Arctic wildlife refuge to oil drilling and provide tens of billions of dollars in tax breaks for energy industries.
The Bush administration touted the legislation as key to meeting the country's future energy demands and called it a balance between needed energy development and energy conservation.
Democrats said it was too heavily tilted toward helping energy companies, with more than $33.5 billion in tax benefits over the next decade. They said $8 of every $10 would go to coal, oil, nuclear and other energy industries.
The revenue drain could force Congress to dip into Medicare or Social Security trust funds, Democrats charged, although the bill's GOP supporters disagreed.
Debate on the 510-page bill, the first broad overhaul of federal energy policy in a decade, was expected to extend into the late evening with hotly contested showdowns over drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and a proposal to boost fuel economy requirements for popular sport utility vehicles.
"This bill is a giant step forward in securing America's energy future," declared Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., chairman of one of eight House committees that had a hand in crafting the legislation.
The House action, coming only days before Congress is scheduled to begin its summer recess, marked the first legislative response to President Bush's energy blueprint unveiled in May and to the growing concern in Congress about the nation's energy future -- concerns elevated by the widely fluctuating gasoline prices and the electricity shortages that have plagued California and much of the West this year.
The bill was broadly endorsed by the White House.
It is "focused on increased conservation, promoting technology, expanding the use of renewables and increasing efficiency, increasing energy exploration and promoting a clean environment," said White House press secretary Ari Fleischer.