WASHINGTON - President Bush proclaimed victory today as he savored House passage of major parts of his energy development plan, including oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
"We showed them last night how we can break Washington gridlock," the president said as he and Vice President Dick Cheney entered the Capitol this morning.
The measure now goes to the Senate, where Republican leader Trent Lott of Mississippi was less optimistic about whether ANWR drilling would remain in the energy bill.
"The issue (of refuge drilling) will come up, and we'll have a good debate and a vote," Lott said.
The House-approved energy bill faces strong opposition in the Democratic-controlled Senate and other major issues - such as electricity deregulation, siting of power plants and power lines and nuclear power development - have yet to be addressed. The Senate will not act on the bill until September at the earliest.
The House worked past midnight Washington time before it passed its version of the Bush energy bill by a 240-189 vote early this morning after a spirited - at times testy - debate over whether to allow oil companies into the pristine Arctic refuge in northeast Alaska.
Bush has called the refuge the country's major untapped source of petroleum and insisted drilling can be done without harming the environment.
In the end, a majority of House members, including a handful of Democrats, agreed and rejected an attempt to strip from the 510-page energy legislation a provision that would allow exploration and drilling in the refuge's 1.5-million acre coastal plain. The vote on that provision was 223-206.
Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham called passage of the bill "a tremendous victory for America, for the economy and for the environment."
"This moves America backward," countered Minority Leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri. He said the bill was "tilted to the energy lobby" with too little to get Americans to conserve energy and too many subsidies for oil, coal, nuclear and other energy producers.
Debate over Arctic refuge drilling produced some of the most spirited debate.
Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young angrily denounced some of those who oppose drilling when they have never visited the refuge. Far from a pristine treasure, he said it was a hostile ground made for oil development.
The refuge "was supposed to be drilled, explored for the American people," said Young.
"This is no ordinary land," replied Rep. David Bonior, a Michigan Democrat who said he had visited ANWR. "It's a cathedral of nature, an American heritage. And it's our responsibility to protect it."
Pro-drilling forces have maintained new technology will limit the "footprint" of any oil exploration or drilling to no more than 2,000 acres, a tiny fraction of the flat tundra that makes up most of the area where oil is to be found. Critics, though, say that acreage would not be concentrated but spread over a vast area.
In addition to the ANWR provision, the legislation includes:
A package of tax breaks and incentives totaling $33.5 billion over 10 years, mostly earmarked to a wide range of energy producers including coal, oil, and nuclear industries.
A modest boost in fuel economy for sport utility vehicles.
Tax incentives for buying hybrid gasoline-electric cars, solar panels, some high-efficiency appliances and improvements in building energy efficiency.
An increase in federal money to help low-income families pay heating and cooling bills.
Expansion of research into clean coal technology.
"This bill is a giant step forward in securing America's energy future," said Rep. Billy Tauzin, a Louisiana Republican, calling it a balance between production and conservation.
But Democrats charged the ambitious set of tax benefits - broader than the Bush administration recommended - would force Congress to break its budget agreement and unleash - as New York Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel proclaimed - "a budgetary train wreck."
"They're about to build their oil rigs on top of the Medicare and Social Security trust funds," said Rep. Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat and author of the anti-ANWR-drilling amendment.
Juneau Empire ©2014. All Rights Reserved.