Legislation to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil development easily cleared the House Resources Committee Tuesday when five Democrats joined committee Republicans to approve drilling by a 27-12 margin.
The refuge’s 1.5 million acre coastal plain, considered the most promising site for a giant oil discovery in North America, is regarded by environmentalists and the Interior Department as a vital sanctuary for wildlife.
Drilling advocates contend that the area can be developed without any harm to the caribou, polar bears and migratory birds that seasonally use it.
The legislation, intended to raise $1.3 billion to help erase the federal deficit by 2002, will become a feature of a massive budget bill that the Republican-controlled Congress will send to President Clinton in a few weeks.
The House measure is the work of Alaska Rep. Don Young, chairman of the House panel who had the support of all but two Republicans.
The panel’s senior Democrat, Rep. George Miller of California, voted against drilling. Miller said he sees little hope of stopping the measure in the House and slim chance in the Senate.
Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt said again Tuesday that he will urge a presidential veto. But by the time the massive budget package reaches the White House, drilling advocates are hoping that the refuge provision will seem so insignificant in comparison to hot-button items like Medicare and welfare reforms that it will come through without a fight.
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