The House last night endorsed oil drilling in an Alaska wildlife refuge, setting up a confrontation with the Senate as Congress struggles to produce a comprehensive energy policy.
An attempt to strip a House energy bill of a provision that would allow development of the refuge's oil was turned back 228 to 197. Drilling opponents argued that more oil could be saved with higher auto fuel economy requirements than the refuge could produce.
Earlier, the House rejected a proposal to require a 5 percent reduction in fuel used by motor vehicles within seven years. Opponents of the measure said it would force automakers to make small cars.
Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), sponsor of the anti-drilling amendment, criticized "going to a pristine area in the Arctic and drilling" and then putting the oil "into SUVs that get 10 to 13 miles a gallon." If lawmakers are unwilling to improve auto fuel economy, "we have no right to jeopardize a pristine wilderness that should be preserved for the next generation," he said.
A final vote on the bill -- which includes a string of incentives for oil and gas development; $18.7 billion in tax breaks, mostly to energy companies; and a requirement for greater use of corn-based ethanol as a gasoline additive -- was expected today.
With the pro-drilling vote, the House put itself into conflict with the Senate, which last month rejected drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge 52 to 48. Even pro-drilling Senate Republicans have indicated they have little stomach to take on the issue again in an energy bill that Democrats have vowed to filibuster over the drilling issue.
The Senate is expected to take up its energy bill next month.