Bush urges drilling in Alaskan wildlife refuge

Feb 26, 2002 01:00 AM

Describing fuel cells and hybrid cars as "the wave of the future" but not the solution to dependence on foreign oil, US President George Bush urged drilling in a pristine Alaskan wildlife refuge. With three gleaming US-made energy-saving experimental vehicles -- none of which is available yet to consumers -- parked behind him at the White House diplomatic entrance, Mr Bush focused on his commitment to conservation rather than his controversial plan to open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and gas exploration.
He pressed the Senate to pass a comprehensive energy plan embracing increased production as well as conservation, saying it would create jobs and help wean the US from foreign oil. "It's important for Americans to remember that, as we debate an energy bill, as we have a discussion about an energy plan, that America imports more than... 10 mm bpd and the figure is rising. "The House has acted, and now the Senate must act," Mr Bush said. "And the Congress needs to get abill to my desk. This is an important piece of legislation, and I urge quick action."

The Republican president faces tough odds in the Democratic-led Senate, where debate resumes on energy legislation that does not contain language to allow drilling in ANWR, believed to hold up to 16 bn barrels of crude. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives included drilling in the refuge in its energy bill last August. "Any sound comprehensive energy policy must both increase production and reduce consumption," Mr Bush said. "Technologies will enable us to preserve our environment as we explore."
A final Senate vote is not expected until March, and the Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, has said he has enough votes to block Republicans from allowing ANWR exploration. The Arctic refuge stretches over 19.6 mm acres and is home to caribou, polar bears and other wildlife. Democrats and environmental groups oppose drilling in the refuge, preferring an energy policy that stresses conservation and stricter fuel efficiency for vehicles.

Mr Bush believes taking oil from the refuge would help reduce the country's dependence on crude oil imported from volatile Middle Eastern nations that he said "to put it bluntly, sometimes... don't particularly like us". Republicans say Alaskan drilling will create tens of thousands of jobs, and backers say the refuge could produce 1 mm bpd of oil at peak production.
The United States uses 19.5 mm bpd, of which 60 % is imported. Mr Bush inspected a Chevrolet Silverado GMC Sierra hybrid truck, which combines an electric motor and a conventional V-8 engine; a Ford Escape ATV hybrid electric vehicle, which combines an electric motor and a fuel-efficient gas engine; and a Chrysler Town and Country Natrium, a hybrid fuel-cell minivan that produces no tailpipe emissions. He poked his head under hoods, peered into interiors and listened intently as representatives explained the vehicles.
Mr Bush, who owns a ranch in Texas but not the stock that graze on it, struck a cowboy pose beside the pick-up. Told that he needed a hat to complete the picture, the president shot back: "You need the cattle if you've got the hat." "More and more hybrid cars will be available in the marketplace next year, and this is good news," Mr Bush said.

Two Japanese auto companies already have hybrid models on the road but their vehicles were not on display. "It is good news for our environment and it's good news for American consumers who are not only worried about the environment, but understand the ramifications of dependency on foreign sources of crude oil," Mr Bush said. "And then the fuel cells are being developed," he added. "We happen to believe that fuel cells are the wave of the future, that fuel cells offer incredible opportunity."
The White House insists that Mr Bush's commitment to conservation, including $ 3 bn in tax credits over 11 years for purchases of hybrid vehicles and a 150 mm "freedom car" plan focusing on development of fuel cell technologies that run on hydrogen, has been overshadowed by the controversy over plans to drill in the wildlife refuge.

Source: The Scotsman
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