House approves limited Arctic drilling
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In a victory for President Bush and his national energy policy, the House has approved opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas development but is limiting the area in which drilling might occur.

By a vote of 240 to 189, which took place early this morning after more than 14 hours of debate on Wednesday, the House approved a broad, comprehensive energy bill that Democrats said was a pay-out to the oil, gas and coal industries. The bill's $33.5 billion in tax incentives would require stealing from the nation's social security trust fund, they said, a charge denied by Republicans.

But the GOP beat back the criticism as they rebuffed a number of Democrat-led attempts to change the focus of the 500-page bill. By a vote of 223 to 206, the chamber rejected an amendment introduced by Reps. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.) and Ed Markley (D-Mass.) to ban drilling in the 19.5-million acre refuge.

"You cannot develop this area without tremendous impact on this ecosystem," said Johnson of the refuge. "This is intrusive and the scars are permanent."

Opponent of the amendment accused their colleagues of forcing the United States to depend on foreign nations for energy supplies. The GOP and the White House believe the refuge could hold as many as 16 million barrels of oil.

"This is a charade. This amendment is trying to deprive ourselves of oil we must have for this nation," said Young. "How dare you stand up here and talk about something and you have never been there. Shame on you."

Hoping to strike a compromise, Rep. John E. Sununu (R-N.H.) offered an amendment, approved by 228 to 201, to scale back drilling in ANWR's 1.5-million acre coastal plain. His proposal limits development to 2,000 acres in the "1002" area, home to the Inupiat Eskimo village of Kaktovik.

In advance of yesterday's debate, Secretary of Interior Gale Norton, whose department oversees the refuge, lobbied members of the House on ANWR. Drilling in even a limited acreage would be beneficial to the country, she said.

"Keep in mind, of the more than 19 million acres in the entire refuge, if Congress opens up all of 1002, this will mean only 92 percent of ANWR will be permanently closed to oil and gas leasing," she said. "Eight percent of the land area will be eligible for exploration."

Norton, who has a trust responsibility to Alaska Natives, also said the Porcupine caribou herd would not be affected by activities in the refuge. The Central Arctic herd has not been hurt by 30 years of development in Prudhoe Bay, she argued.

Norton's claim was disputed by Faith Gemmill, a spokesperson for the Gwich'in Nation, who oppose development. "Once the [Prudhoe Bay] infrastructure came in, that herd could move its calving grounds," she said. "With our herd, this 130,000 has no other alternative."

Under the bill, Norton can restrict development to certain times of the year to protect the herd. The Gwich'in rely on the herd for cultural and subsistence purposes.

In support of drilling, Norton pointed out that Inupiat Eskimos can't develop land granted to them. Arctic Slope Regional Corp., an Alaska Native Corporation chartered under federal law, has mineral rights to 92,000 acres of land in the refuge and would benefit financially should oil or gas be found there.

Residents of Kaktovik say drilling would help their economy. Health care, education and basic infrastructure would improve, say village leaders.

Under the bill, the village would share in a $10 million impact fund Norton is authorized to create.

The Senate is working on its own energy bill, said lawmakers on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Democrats have vowed to prevent drilling in ANWR.

Get the Bill:
To enhance energy conservation, research and development and to provide for security and diversity in the energy supply for the American people (H.R.4)

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 -

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