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Hansen gets key role for energy plan

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WASHINGTON — After a White House huddle Thursday on how to push President Bush's energy agenda in Congress, House Resources Committee Chairman Jim Hansen says he has been assigned to push its toughest and most controversial parts.

That includes seeking oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), expanded offshore drilling, easing access to federal lands for mineral development, and expanding hydroelectric power — all generally opposed by environmental groups.

"It is easily the most controversial part," the Utah Republican said. "It isn't going to be easy — but nothing ventured, nothing gained. If you don't stand up and fight for what you believe in, then you're not worth much."

Hansen said the energy development issues will be divided among four committees. He plans to introduce the Resources Committee's portion on July 10 — after the House returns from its weeklong July 4 recess — and will hold hearings a couple of days later.

Republicans hope to move all parts of the plan more or less in tandem and to debate it on the House floor before the August recess.

That strategy came on a day when Bush was trying to shift focus from those most controversial parts of his plan to the more easy sale of increased conservation.

Bush told Energy Department employees he wants to go beyond the debates of whether or not to drill for natural gas in Alaska.

"This strategy is much broader than that," he said. "While I strongly believe we ought to explore for natural gas and hydrocarbons without destroying our environment — and I believe we can do so in Alaska — it's important for the American people to understand that we're talking way beyond just one single issue that seems to dominate the landscape here in Washington."

Bush then outlined conservation efforts his administration will push, including his efforts to cut consumption at the White House itself.

Hansen said while the Bush plan will still seek drilling in ANWR, it will not include an earlier discussed proposal to possibly alter boundaries of new national monuments to allow mineral exploration.

Hansen said that has become too controversial, and the House last week passed an amendment to the Interior appropriations bill that bans spending any money to allow developing minerals within any current monument — even if boundaries change.

An indication of the difficult task Hansen faces was Thursday's passage in the House of a ban on any work to allow more oil drilling in the Great Lakes, even though the Bush administration said it was never planning that.

Hansen said that while the outlook for those controversial parts may now look bleak, "that could all change quickly depending on how things go this summer" with predictions of rising oil prices and rolling blackouts in California and maybe elsewhere.

He said he remembers during the oil crisis of the 1970s, people generally opposed the trans-Alaska pipeline until they started sitting in hours-long lines for gasoline, if they could buy it at all.

"All the sudden, the caribou and forest grouse weren't such a big deal," he said.

E-MAIL: lee@desnews.com