WASHINGTON - House Republicans are pushing a plan to allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and several other areas currently considered off-limits to energy production, stapling the measures to a massive transportation bill expected to move through the House.
The House Natural Resources Committee Wednesday passed a trio of bills directing the government to allow drilling in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans--where leases aren't currently offered--and open up a chunk of the Arctic refuge to drilling. The bills also pave the way for oil-shale development in western states.
The bills will be attached to a measure endorsed by House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) that authorizes $260 billion over five years to fund federal highway and transit programs. Republicans say the revenue from expanded oil production will help pay for the transportation projects.
The House is likely to approve the package in the near future, marking a win for the oil-and-gas industry that urges greater access to U.S. lands and waters. The fate of the legislation in the Senate is less clear, however, given the Democrats' control of that chamber.
The bills mark the latest attempt by Republicans to draw an election-year distinction from the Obama administration over energy policies. They have said the administration stifles domestic oil production and blocks off federal waters and land known to have oil resources.
Democrats have countered that Republicans are catering to the whims of big oil companies and that their policies pose a threat to areas that have been shielded from energy production for several years.
Among the most-controversial bills approved by the committee Wednesday is a measure that allows drilling on a 3% chunk of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The measure passed by a vote of 29-13.
Rep. Don Young (R), the sole representative from Alaska, long has pushed for oil production in the refuge and said it would be a "foolish mistake" to ignore the oil resources under the refuge.
Democrats have tried unsuccessfully to fight the measure, saying the refuge should be protected from the noise, pollution and environmental impacts that accompany energy production. "If we allow drilling in the Arctic refuge, it would set a precedent that would allow the oil and gas industry to set a bulls eye" on refuges around the country," Rep. Rush Holt (D, N.J.) said.
The committee also passed a bill by a vote of 25-19 compelling the Obama administration to allow drilling in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. A formal moratorium on drilling in the areas was lifted in 2008, however, many state governments continue to oppose oil production off their coasts. The Obama administration maintained a years-long ban on the Atlantic and Pacific when it proposed a five-year plan for offshore-oil drilling late last year.
Republicans have passed multiple pieces of legislation to expedite or expand U.S. oil production, asserting the energy industry is a source of jobs in a weak economy. But the legislation fizzles once it hits the Senate.
Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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