House panel approves Arctic drilling
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In a victory for the Bush administration, the House Resources Committee on Tuesday approved opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling.

Beating back two attempts to prevent development of the Alaskan refuge, a number of Democrats joined the Republican members of the committee in supporting one of President Bush's top energy proposals. By a vote of 26 to 17, the committee advanced the drilling legislation to the House, where it will be considered as part of a larger set of bills addressing energy development.

The move comes as the Bush administration tries to kick-start the President's national energy policy. On Monday, Vice President Dick Cheney, who led the energy task force, and a number of other Cabinet officials held a series of town hall meetings to promote a policy that in recent weeks has seen setbacks in both the House and the Senate.

But while the Bush administration scaled back plans to allow oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, Secretary of Interior Gale Norton has continued to push for development of a "small" portion -- also known as the 1002 area -- of the 19.5 million-acre refuge. So it was no surprise that she praised the vote as affirmation of her commitment to the issue.

"The committee vote reinforces a strong bipartisan force including Democrats, labor leaders and Alaskan natives is working toward environmentally responsible energy production in the 1002 area," she said in a statement yesterday evening.

Located on Alaska's North Slope, the 1.5 million-acre 1002 area is unique not just because of its potentially large oil and gas reserves but also due to its Indian ownership. The Inupiat Eskimo-owned Arctic Slope Regional Corp., an Alaska Native corporation chartered under federal law, owns subsurface rights to 92,000 acres within the 1002 area.

Drilling would lead to financial benefits to the corporation in the form of royalty payments. Leaders of the Eskimo village of Kaktovik, which is located in the 1002 area, also foresee economic stimulation.

But the Gwich'in Nation, whose villages are scattered outside the refuge, fear development will harm the Porcupine caribou herd on which they depend for subsistence and cultural purposes. Norton last month met with Gwich'in leaders in Arctic Village, located just outside the southern tip of the refuge, but left convinced drilling could occur without harming the environment.

A number of Democrats in the House and the Senate have come down on the side of the Gwich'in. They are joined by moderate Republicans, all of whom are promising a fight against drilling in the refuge.

The drilling provision is contained in Title V of the Energy Security Act, a bill whose sponsors include Resource Committee Chairman Rep. Jim Hansen (R-Utah) and Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska). A Democrat alternative which does not include drilling was defeated 21 to 29 while a Democrat attempt to strike Title V was failed 19 to 29.

Democrat Congressmen who voted against striking the provision were Brad Carson of Oklahoma; Eni Faleomavaega of American Samoa; Calvin Dooley of California; Robert Underwood of Guam and Solomon Ortiz of Texas.

Get the Bill:
To provide secure energy supplies for the people of the United States, and for other purposes (H.R.2436)

Get Testimony on Bill:
Full Committee Hearing on H.R.2436 (7/11)

Relevant Links:
Gwich'in Steering Committee -
Oil Issues in ANWR, US Fish and Wildlife -
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, US Fish and Wildlife Service -
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Pro-Development site -

Only on Indianz.Com:
Inside the Bush energy policy (5/18)

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Norton promotes energy plan (7/17)