House Republicans joined by several Democrats gave the White House a major legislative victory passing a comprehensive energy bill by a vote of 240 to 189.
Late Wednesday, the House defeated an amendment that would have blocked oil and gas drilling in a 2,000-acre patch of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, a blow to environmentalists who had lobbied to protect the area.
Mr. Bush and Republican leaders argued that searching for oil and protecting the environment are compatible and necessary for the nation’s long-term security. In a rare coalition effort, Republican leaders and the Teamsters union urged representatives to allow the drilling, saying it would create jobs. The vote was 223 to 206, with nearly three dozen Republicans and three dozen Democrats crossing party lines in the vote.
“America faces a serious degradation of our national security unless we move at once to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy,” said Representative Tom DeLay, the majority whip from Texas. “This bill takes important steps in that direction by promoting initiatives that will allow us to produce more energy at home. We need to take control of our destiny.”
The House also rejected an effort to further increase fuel efficiency standards for vehicles, a measure vigorously opposed by car companies and automobile unions. That vote was 269 to 160.
The House bill does not address some of the more complex aspects of Mr. Bush’s energy plan including electricity deregulation, the renewal of liability insurance for nuclear power plants and the overhaul of electricity grids. Those issues will be addressed later this year.
Democratic leaders are decrying the bill’s $33.5 billion price tag, accusing Republicans of pandering to the big corporations and planning to raid the Medicare trust fund to pay for it at a time when the Treasury Department is borrowing money to pay for tax rebate checks.
“This bill has nothing to do with providing Americans with a more secure energy future,” said Representative Nick J. Rahall II, of West Virginia, the senior Democrat on the Resources Committee. “Instead, it is a multibillion-dollar giveaway of America’s resources and American taxpayer dollars to big oil, already awash in record profits.”
Republicans denied that accusation.
The measure also allows several electric companies to transfer control of their power lines to independent operators tax-free, avoiding an estimated $2 billion in taxes. Another $3.3 billion in tax credits would go to coal producers for investing in “clean-coal” technology.
There are provisions to encourage environmentally friendly cars, energy efficient homes and energy saving appliances. The bill also calls for investments in research and development in conservation and nuclear energy development.
But Republican priorities face an uphill fight on the other side of the Capitol. The Democratically controlled Senate is in the midst of drafting a significantly different proposal, which is likely to include stricter fuel efficiency standards. In addition, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts says he will block any effort to permit drilling in the wildlife refuge.