The U.S. House of Representatives early Thursday approved sweeping energy legislation that aims to boost production and promote conservation. In a major victory for President Bush, the House voted to allow drilling in an Alaskan wildlife refuge. It is a key part of the administration's plan to boost domestic oil supplies.
The energy bill was approved by a 240-to-189 vote, after lawmakers rejected a proposal by a vote of 223-206 that sought to keep the ban on oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
A co-sponsor of the proposal, Republican Nancy Johnson of Connecticut, unsuccessfully argued that drilling would harm the region's pristine environment. "Mark my words, my friends, you cannot explore this area and drill in this area without permanent and severe damage to the environment," he said.
Most Republicans said the oil drilling plan would have little impact on the environment. They argued that oil from the reserve would reduce U.S. reliance on foreign sources, including oil from Iraq.
"This oil we must have for this nation," said Congressman Don Young of Alaska. It is one million barrels of oil a day for the next hundred years, so that [Iraqi leader] Saddam Hussein cannot control the market, cannot drive the gasoline prices up.
The overall energy bill includes more than $33-billion in tax breaks for producers, including coal, nuclear and oil companies as well as some programs to promote fuel efficiency and conservation.
Democrats criticized the proposed tax breaks for big oil companies that already enjoy record profits. They said the bill is a payback to oil and energy firms that made contributions to Mr. Bush's presidential campaign.
The Democrat-controlled Senate has yet to act on the energy legislation, but it is expected to block the plan to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.