...TC WASHINGTON -- In a move attacked by environmentalists, the Senate Energy Committee approved a national energy bill yesterday that would open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling and would not require automakers to build more fuel-efficient cars.
While the vote was the first time in more than a decade that Congress has moved this far in drafting a national energy policy, the package faces vigorous opposition from those who complain that it emphasizes production over conservation efforts.
If the measure reaches the Senate floor, it is headed for a contentious battle, in which many members are unlikely to support Arctic drilling unless they can point to other provisions, such as fuel standards, that show a commitment to conservation.
Even the committee chairman, Sen. J. Bennett Johnston, D-La., said that to have a "balanced" bill the measure would need to tighten the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standard, or CAFE, which now requires automakers' fleets to average 27.5 miles a gallon.
The bill would also exempt large electric power producers from federal regulation, streamline nuclear plant licensing, unfetter utilities from state regulation and require limited energy efficiency measures.
The White House proposed a national energy policy in February, but it has encountered opposition in Congress, and White House officials have suggested that the president would support a bill similar to what passed the Energy Committee.