House Revives ANWAR Again?
Thursday 10 April 2003
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The House hoped to revive momentum for a new national energy policy Thursday as it considered legislation that would give broad incentives for oil and gas development, including drilling in an Alaska wildlife refuge.
Critics said the House bill pays too little attention to promoting conservation and developing renewable energy sources, while the bill's supporters called it "a balanced approach'' to address the nation's energy problems.
Two years after the White House declared energy a top priority, Congress has is still struggled to develop energy legislation. Separate bills passed the Senate and House last year, only to die in the closing days of the congressional session. The Senate was expected to take up its energy bill next month.
House Republicans said the bill, moving toward a final vote, would help reduce the uncertainty in energy supplies. They said the legislation would hold down U.S. dependence on foreign oil -- and perhaps soon natural gas -- by making it easier for domestic producers to expand drilling, while opening new oil resources such as those beneath the tundra of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
"It advances a balanced approach to energy production and use,'' said Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., the bill's floor leader, and includes "significant investment'' in conservation and energy efficiency.
But Democrats said the legislation was full of unneeded subsidies for energy companies.
"It gives away billions of dollars to powerful industries courtesy of the taxpayer,'' complained Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich.
The bill includes $18.7 billion in tax subsidies, including tax benefits for oil and gas drilling, more advantageous write-offs by utilities for the cost of transmission lines, and an extension of tax credits to promote wind-powered energy. Homeowners who install solar heating systems would get a $2,000 credit.
Despite its unlikely prospects in the Senate, the House -- as it did two years ago -- called for lifting the ban on oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern Alaska, a top priority of the Bush administration's energy agenda. Drilling supporters, however, face an uphill fight in the Senate, where Democrats have vowed to protect the refuge from oil development.
In a boon to farmers, the legislation would require a doubling of the use of corn-based ethanol as a gasoline additive. Refiners would have to use 5 billion gallons of ethanol by 2015. While the ethanol expansion has widespread, bipartisan support, Rep. Rich Boucher, D-Va., complained "it will raise the price of gasoline'' and could cause supply problems.
The bill also:
--Allows companies to avoid federal royalty payments on natural gas taken from very deep wells in the Gulf of Mexico.
--Gives federal energy regulators authority to locate electric power lines if states fail to do so.
--Streamlines the licensing process for hydroelectric dams.
-- Would make it easier to open corridors for gas pipelines and power lines on federal land.
--Provides new tax breaks and other incentives to spur the research into hydrogen fuel cells for use in cars and for production of electricity.
--Calls for an inventory of oil and gas reserves in all coastal waters, including those that have been off limits for drilling for two decades. Environmentalists express concern the study would be a step toward lifting the drilling bans.
But many Democrats complained about what was not in the legislation.
There is nothing to curtail the use of fuel by automobiles, although cars and SUVs accounts for about 40 percent of the 20 million barrels of oil consumed daily in the United States. "How can we be silent on auto fuel efficiency if this bill is going to do anything at all?'' asked Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y.
Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., said it "makes no sense'' to give tax breaks to traditional oil and gas industries at a time of high energy prices.
"There's little in the way of relief for Americans at the gas pump in this bill,'' said Rahall. Instead it adds "insult to injury'' by proving "a whole host of taxpayers subsidies to energy producers.''
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