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Hansen gets jeered on energy plan

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WASHINGTON — Drawing jeers from environmentalists, House Resources Committee Chairman Jim Hansen, R-Utah, launched a drive Wednesday to increase energy production on U.S. public lands.

That includes pushing to allow oil exploration in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and ordering an inventory of coal (but not oil) resources in national monuments and most other public lands.

President Bush asked Hansen to push legislation to enact portions of his energy plan that deal with public lands. Hansen introduced it Tuesday, held a hearing Wednesday and seeks House passage by the August recess.

Hansen said electricity crisis in California shows that increased conservation alone will not solve problems. He said America must increase energy supplies, even in controversial areas.

"We are creating an oil and gas leasing program on the coastal plain of ANWR. The bill says only the best technology available can be used to develop energy there. No harm can come to wildlife or plant life. All environmental regulations must be strictly obeyed," Hansen said at a press conference before the hearing.

"It (ANWR) would have the most stringent regulation of any oil production anywhere," said Interior Secretary Gale Norton about what Hansen's bill would do.

Teamster's President James Hoffa Jr., who says his union's truckers need increased supplies to stabilize fuel prices, said the 2,000 acres in ANWR where oil exploration would be allowed is "one fifth the size of Dulles airport" in Washington.

But environmental groups and Democrats howled about the proposal.

"The bill will sacrifice the lands American hold most dear," said Linda Lance, vice president of the Wilderness Society. "Oil drilling in the arctic refuge would introduce a major industrial facility in the heart of this magnificent wilderness. This activity is fundamental incompatible" with the area.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle has also warned that his Democratic-controlled body will never approve drilling in ANWR.

Also on Tuesday, Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, and a group of 32 centrist Democrats, called "Blue Dogs," chose to oppose oil exploration in ANWR in their alternate energy plan. Loss of those centrist votes, plus a large number of eastern Republicans who vote with environmentalists, make prospects bleak for that part of Hansen's bill.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin, R-La., conceded chances for passage of ANWR provisions are "tough," but said, "We would be remiss if we didn't bring it forward and allow examination of it." Hansen's bill also calls for the Interior secretary to inventory all public lands except national parks and wilderness area for their potential to produce more coal, geothermal, wind and solar power.

Of course, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah is considered to have some of the largest coal reserves in America.

Lance, with the Wilderness Society, said that inventory could lead to more development in such places as national monuments, wilderness study areas, wild and scenic river corridors and national forest roadless areas.

But Hansen noted that the bill backed off some earlier proposals to go so far as to actually allow energy production in national monuments created by former President Clinton.

"This bill does not allow drilling or mining on any protected public lands. Not in national parks, wilderness areas or national monuments," Hansen said.

"Instead, we are focused on getting the most bang for our energy buck by increasing production under lands and waters where mining and drilling already exist," he said.

Hansen's bill also seeks a study of existing rights-of-way across federal lands to determine capability for new pipelines and electric lines; calls for a review of regulations to help eliminate barriers to emerging energy technology; and calls for steps to expedite the permitting of natural gas pipelines.

Hansen said, "The impacts of the current (energy) crisis are now just beginning to be felt . . . . Our role in Congress should be to clear any unrealistic and over-burdensome regulatory obstacles, then get out of the way and allow the markets to work."

E-MAIL: lee@desnews.com