US House Panel to Vote on Alaska Refuge Drilling
Author: Tom Doggett
In addition to opening ANWR, the House Resources Committee also is expected to vote to speed up government approval of drilling permits for US areas already open to energy exploration, cut federal royalties on low-volume oil and natural gas wells, and promote development of geothermal energy on public lands, the panel's spokesman said on Monday.
The committee will meet on Feb. 9 to consider the portions of a broad energy bill similar to one passed last year.
Other House committees, including Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means, and Science, must vote on energy issues under their jurisdictions before all are rolled into a single broad bill.
The entire US House is expected to approve the energy legislation, possibly as soon as mid-February.
With both the House and Senate boosting their Republican majorities in the last election, the Bush administration believes it has enough votes in the new Congress to tap ANWR's potential 16 billion barrels of oil and also pass legislation to address other energy issues.
"We need an energy bill and I look forward to working with members of both parties to get a good energy bill out," President George W. Bush told reporters last week.
The administration believes ANWR's oil is needed to help reduce US crude imports from the volatile Middle East.
Moderate Republicans and Democrats in the Senate contend the refuge does not hold enough crude to justify destroying the area's habitat for polar bears, caribou and other wildlife.
One element in the congressional debate could be OPEC's decision over the weekend to maintain current crude oil production. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries cartel based its decision on the belief that current crude oil prices near $50 a barrel would not hurt the global economy.
The House's energy bill will be almost identical to the one the chamber passed last year.
The legislation died in the Senate because of House Republican leaders' insistence that the bill protect oil companies from legal liability for contaminating groundwater supplies with the gasoline fuel additive MTBE.
Communities across the nation are suing MTBE producers for polluting local drinking water supplies.
Some form of MTBE liability protection is expected to be in the revived House energy bill, even though both Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the Senate say such language would again doom any broad energy legislation.
Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico, chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, said he plans to win approval for ANWR drilling by including such language in the federal government's budget legislation, which can't be filibustered.
Domenici indicated he would then craft a separate bill to offer billions of dollars in energy tax credits, research and other incentives. Differences between the Senate and House bills would have to be reconciled into a final energy package.