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Thursday, 2 August, 2001, 10:30 GMT 11:30 UK
US House backs Arctic drilling
Anti-drilling protester
Critics say arctic drilling could damage the ecosystem
The US House of Representatives has approved a package of energy legislation, which includes controversial plans for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

It was a legislative victory for President George W Bush, a former oil executive, who wants to boost domestic energy production as imports have risen to 60% of total consumption.

Mr Bush says the pristine refuge in northeastern Alaska is the country's biggest untapped source of petroleum. He argues that, with modern technology, drilling can be carried out there without harming the environment.

But correspondents say the administration's victory may be short-lived, as the package still has to go before the Democratic-controlled Senate.

The plan includes more than $33bn in tax concessions for the energy industry, funding to promote renewable energy sources and other conservation measures.

Why do we want to drill in ANWR? Because that's where the oil is

Texas Republican Joe Barton

A rival Democrat bill - due for discussion next month - would keep the Arctic refuge off limits to drilling and set much tougher vehicle fuel standards.

The House passed the Republican energy plan after a 12-hour debate that lasted into the early hours. An amendment by Democrats and some moderate Republicans to remove the drilling provision from the bill was defeated by 223 votes to 206.

The package includes:

  • Lifting a congressional ban on drilling in the ANWR

  • Tax breaks and incentives targeting a wide range of energy producers including coal, oil and nuclear industries

  • A modest boost in fuel economy for sports utility vehicles

  • Tax incentives for buying hybrid petrol-electric cars, solar panels and other energy-saving technology

  • An increase in federal money to help low-income families pay fuel bills

  • Expansion of research into clean coal technology

The plan has been condemned by environmental groups, who say drilling could damage Alaska's fragile ecosystem.

This is no ordinary land, it's a cathedral of nature

Michigan Democrat David Bonior

The House defeated an amendment calling for greater fuel efficiency requirements for sport utility vehicles, minivans and trucks, by 269 votes to 160.

Environmentalists have argued that such improvements would save more oil each year than could be produced in the Arctic refuge.

On Tuesday Mr Bush made an appeal for the refuge to be opened to drilling.

He says he is convinced that the drilling could be accomplished "in an environmentally friendly way".

But there is huge public unease about plans to tap the pristine wilderness, which was put off limits by President Dwight Eisenhower 41 years ago.

The BBC's Tom Carver reports
"A wilderness of ice"
John Passacantando, Greenpeace USA
"Alaska will never be open for oil"
See also:

02 Aug 01 | Americas
Head to head: Arctic oil drilling
02 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
Ice and oil: The risks
09 May 01 | Americas
Clash over Arctic reserves
11 Apr 01 | Americas
Opposition grows to Alaska oil drill
12 Jul 99 | Americas
Alaska oil disaster 'imminent'
15 Nov 00 | Americas
Alaskans face the thaw
18 May 01 | Sci/Tech
Bush energy plan: An oilman's vision
01 May 01 | Business
Is there a US energy crisis?
14 Jul 01 | Americas
Bush feels heat on global warming
15 May 01 | Americas
US attraction to nuclear power
30 Mar 01 | Americas
Kyoto: Why did the US pull out?
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