WASHINGTON -- Two days after Republicans unveiled an energy bill that would allow oil drilling in an Arctic wildlife refuge, legislation was introduced Wednesday in both the House and Senate to permanently protect the area from oil rigs.
A bill by Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., would designate the 1.5-million-acre coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge a wilderness area, barring future development.
A similar bill was introduced in the House by Reps. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Nancy Johnson, R-Conn.
President Bush has made drilling in the Arctic refuge a centerpiece of his energy plan, arguing that oil and gas can be taken from the area without environmental harm.
Environmentalists have promised to fight any drilling proposal, and most congressional Democrats, as well as a handful of Republicans, are opposed to opening the refuge to development.
The refuge was set aside for protection in 1960. In 1980, Congress barred development of its coastal plain -- beneath which is believed to be between 5.6 billion and 16 billion barrels of oil -- without congressional approval.
The area is the calving grounds for thousands of caribou and attracts millions of migratory birds and other wildlife each spring and summer.
A broad energy bill introduced by Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, on Monday, would open the refuge to oil and gas drilling. Bush's proposed budget, released Wednesday, anticipates $1.2 billion in revenue from oil leases in the refuge by 2004.
Under the wilderness designations outlined in the bills introduced Wednesday, the coastal plain of the refuge would be permanently protected from development.
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