President George W. Bush on Wednesday urged Congress to pass a long-stalled energy bill aimed at increasing domestic production to tackle soaring prices and cut dependence on foreign oil.
The House of Representatives is expected to vote on Thursday on the legislation, which would open up Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Reserve to oil drilling and provide $8bn (£4bn) in tax breaks to industry.
Mr Bush raised the spectre of the 1970s oil crisis, when petrol was rationed in the US, to put pressure on lawmakers. “Congress [has] a responsibility to make sure America never returns to those days,” he said.
Thursday's vote comes amid growing public concern in the US about record fuel prices. “Millions of American families and small businesses are hurting because of higher gasoline prices,“ Mr Bush told the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Washington.
Republicans argue that high fuel prices demonstrate the need for greater domestic energy production, through measures such as drilling in Alaska, increased natural gas extraction from the Gulf of Mexico and expansion of nuclear power.
“We have got to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy,“ said Mr Bush. “This is a matter of economic security and it's also a matter of national security.”
Mr Bush highlighted parts of the bill aimed at increasing energy efficiency and promoting renewable sources. But critics say the legislation is weighed too heavily in favour of fossil fuels. Mr Bush warned lawmakers not to load the bill with too many concessions to industry. “With oil at more than $50 a barrel, energy companies do not need taxpayer-funded incentives to explore for oil and gas.”
The House of Representatives is expected to approve the bill today but it faces stiffer scrutiny in the Senate, which has blocked energy legislation in each of the past four years. Mr Bush said he wanted Congress to pass the bill before the summer recess in August.
“With consumers hurting the way they are at the pump, we're hoping Senate Democrats will stop the obstruction,” said Dennis Hastert, Republican Speaker of the House. Nancy Pelosi, House Democratic leader, said the bill was bad for consumers, tax-payers and the environment.
In addition to its go-ahead for drilling in Alaska, the other most contentious part of the bill is the protection it offers oil companies facing lawsuits over a water-polluting petrol additive called MTBE. The provision is worth billions of dollars to the oil industry. Senate opposition to the MTBE measure was the main reason why energy legislation failed last year. Mr Bush vowed to help broker a compromise.
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