Republicans in new push to drill in Alaska reserve

WASHINGTON Thu Mar 31, 2011 2:46pm EDT

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service bird research camp on the Canning River Delta within the 1002 Area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain is seen in this undated handout photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Alaska Image Library. REUTERS/HANDOUT/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Alaska Image Library

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service bird research camp on the Canning River Delta within the 1002 Area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain is seen in this undated handout photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Alaska Image Library.

Credit: Reuters/HANDOUT/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Alaska Image Library

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Not yet a year after the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history, Republicans are renewing efforts to drill for oil and gas in a fiercely contested Alaskan wildlife refuge.

Moving one day after President Barack Obama's unveiled a plan to cut U.S. oil imports by a third over 10 years, Republicans will unveil a bill to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The bill would also force the Interior Department to hold lease sales for offshore areas, a Republican aide said.

The Republican bill faces an uphill battle for passage with Democrats in control of the Senate and White House, but could open a bargaining process in a Congress where energy bills have stalled since the failure of the climate change legislation effort last year.

Issues such as opening the arctic refuge and restricting EPA regulation of carbon dioxide provoke intense opposition from many Democrats.

Sponsored by around 30 lawmakers, including Senators David Vitter and Jim DeMint, the legislation would also amend the Clean Air Act so that carbon dioxide could not be regulated as a pollutant by the Environmental Protection Agency.

"Yesterday, the president offered some vague platitudes, but no concrete plans to rein in rising gas prices, even as they climb toward $4 per gallon," Senator Vitter said at a press conference.

The Republican bill, he told reporters, "would unleash our vast domestic energy potential to create American jobs, help free us from our reliance on foreign oil and begin to reduce our $14 trillion national debt."

Vitter said his bill would create more than 2 million jobs, $10 trillion in economic activity and $2 trillion in federal tax receipts over 30 years.

Republicans have chided the administration for not doing enough to promote traditional fossil fuels and for moving to curtail some drilling on federal lands, especially in the aftermath of the massive BP oil spill last year.

The bill would also force the State Department to issue all permits necessary for approval of TransCanada Corp's delayed Keystone XL pipeline project.

The Keystone project would transport crude from Canadian oil sands to Gulf coast refineries, but it has run into opposition from environmentalists concerned about the carbon emissions from oil sands development and landowners concerned about pipeline safety.

(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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