Republicans Add Alaska Oil Drilling to Defense Bill
WASHINGTON Congressional Republicans Sunday agreed to try to win passage of a controversial proposal to open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR, to oil drilling, with a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives possible by Monday.
The ANWR legislation, vigorously opposed by environmentalists and many Democrats, was attached by House and Senate negotiators to an unrelated defense spending bill.
While the measure is expected to have an easier time in the House, it faces a tougher fight in the Senate, where a coalition of Democrats and some Republicans are expected to try to block it using special procedures not available in the House.
The ANWR proposal was coupled with the defense spending bill in a tactical move by Republican leaders, who hope enough lawmakers will be afraid to cast a vote against the bill for military funding, including money for the war in Iraq.
Republicans have tried for decades to let oil companies drill in the Alaskan refuge, which sits on Alaska's Northeastern coast and is roughly the same size as the state of South Carolina.
The Bush administration believes ANWR oil production could eventually reach 1 million barrels a day. However, drilling opponents say that raising U.S. fuel standards for new cars, mini-vans and sport utility vehicles could save roughly the same amount of oil.
ANWR is home to caribou, polar bears, migratory birds and other wildlife. About 1.5 million acres of the refuge's coastal plain would be opened to drilling under the current congressional plan.
If Congress opened ANWR to drilling, the refuge's oil would not flow into the U.S. market for an estimated 10 years, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Once the refuge reached peak production in about 2025, its oil would shave about 2 percentage points off the share that oil imports would have in meeting domestic demand, the EIA recently said. That would moderate U.S. oil imports to a forecast 58 percent of total demand in 2025, equal to current import levels.