ANWR Drilling Would Be Heavily Regulated, Interior Secretary Insists

By Seth Lewis | July 7, 2008 | 8:28pm EDT

( - With a close vote on President Bush's energy plan expected in the House, Republicans staged a last-ditch campaign Wednesday to quell fears about oil drilling and to tout the administration's conservation measures.

Republicans tried to move away from an oil-only outlook and paint the president's plan as a boon to environmentally friendly alternatives with its tax incentives and federal funding to promote energy-efficient homes and cars.

And even if the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge were tapped for oil - as the president has proposed - the project would be under the "most stringent environmental regulations ever applied," said Interior Secretary Gale Norton.

"There will be a high level of regulation," Norton said.

That may come as little consolation to environmentalists, who are enraged over the administration's emphasis on increased oil production and fear oil exploration in northern Alaska will sully the landscape and endanger wildlife.

Democrats also continue to accuse the administration of kowtowing to oil interests.

"Today the Republicans are putting on the floor an energy bill that is much too tilted to the energy lobby, bad for our environment and bad for America," House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) said in a statement.

Wednesday's House vote was expected to be a toss-up after Democrats and moderate Republicans began waffling this week on their opposition to oil drilling.

"It's touch and go," Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) told the Associated Press.

The White House stepped up efforts to save the Bush plan by sending Labor Secretary Elaine Chao to lobby Capitol Hill Tuesday. And Republican leaders teamed with an unlikely ally - the Teamsters union - to convince lawmakers that ANWR drilling could create close to 725,000 jobs nationwide.

Environmentalists counter that exploring for oil in ANWR will spoil an untouched wilderness and endanger caribou and polar bears.

Norton refuted such claims: "The reality is quite a different picture," she said, noting that drilling would take place in May and November, during the off-season of caribou mating.

Norton said the ANWR drilling area would take up just one-hundreth of one percent of the wildlife refuge.

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