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Chamber Vows to Press for ANWR, OCS in Upcoming Congress

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said last Wednesday it will continue to press Congress in 2006 to take steps to expand the domestic supply of crude oil and natural gas.

"The Chamber will continue to fight for passage of ANWR [drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge] and the opening of the Outer Continental Shelf to environmentally sound oil and gas exploration," Chamber President and CEO Thomas J. Donohue told reporters during a "State of American Business" briefing in Washington, DC. "If we fail to do so, we will drive plants and industries out of our country in search of affordable energy."

The energy industry could be pumping natural gas from offshore Lease 181 in the eastern Gulf of Mexico in a year or year and a half "if we really put our minds to it," said Tom Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute, during the Chamber-sponsored event last week. Much of gas-rich Lease 181 has been closed to producers over the years due to objections from the state of Florida.

Congressional efforts to open the coastal plain of ANWR to exploration and production and to allow drilling in protected offshore regions, such as Lease 181, cratered in the last weeks and days of the 2005 legislative session. Top Republican energy policymakers have pledged to make ANWR and expanded offshore drilling priority issues in the upcoming session.

However, Capitol Hill watchers concede that getting ANWR and OCS legislation through Congress in 2006 will be difficult, given the bitter divide between Republicans and Democrats and the fact that many lawmakers are up for re-election this year. This will be "an election year on steroids," said one observer.

In 2005, "we were...disappointed by the continuing ignorance and in some cases hypocrisy of many elected officials and thought leaders on energy. On the one hand, they bemoan the high price of energy and our dependence on foreign imports. On the other hand, they oppose virtually all the steps we need to address our energy needs," the Chamber's Donohue said.

"We must increase domestic production as we continue to advance conservation and develop [energy] alternatives," he noted.

"We will also press for removal of Senate provisions that constitute double taxation on energy companies through forced bookkeeping gimmicks and denial of long-standing foreign tax credits," Donohue said. Absent this action, "these provisions will make us even more vulnerable on energy and potentially drive companies out of our country."

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