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WASHINGTON -- With the environment shaping up to be a key issue in next year 's midterm election, lawmakers are under pressure to lean green when the House takes up President Bush's energy plan this week.
The package of bills that will be brought to the floor by House GOP leaders emphasizes greater energy production and reliance on fossil fuels as opposed to the alternative energy sources and greater energy efficiency favored by environmentalists.
Among the sensitive issues in the energy package are whether to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, whether to raise corporate average fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks, and providing subsidies for coal and nuclear power.
GOP leaders and industry lobbyists trying to marshal support for the administration's plan are finding their job is made more difficult by the growing gap between the public and the president on the environment and energy.
There are already signs that Republicans from swing districts and from coastal states and other areas of the country where energy and environmental issues are of particular concerns are eager to distance themselves from Bush.
In last week's GOP primary for a House seat in Florida's Panhandle, where Bush's plan to increase oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is especially unpopular, all six Republican candidates ran as protectors of the environment. The winner, state Rep. Jeff Miller, claimed to be the greenest of them all.
In Michigan, GOP Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus is opposing drilling in the Great Lakes in defiance of Republican Gov. John Engler, whom he is running to replace.
Republicans for Environmental Protection, a national group of GOP $50,000 to $300,000 in the past year. Among those lending their support to the group's effort to redirect or defeat Bush's energy plan are such prominent Republicans as presidential granddaughter Susan Eisenhower and presidential great-grandson Theodore Roosevelt IV.
"Fossil fuels are finite resources that carry terrible environmental baggage, " said Martha Marks, president of Republicans for Environmental Protection. "They are yesterday's resources and we can do better ... We are loyal Republicans who are not pleased about the direction our party is taking."
House Republican Whip Tom DeLay of Texas has formed a special group of GOP lawmakers to help generate votes for passage. The group is called the House Energy Action Team, or "HEAT." Detracting from the GOP effort is the waning of the California energy crisis and lower gas prices, which have let the steam out of support for Bush's call to relax environmental regulation in order to accelerate production.
"If Republicans see this as a campaign issue, they are probably going to run to the green" when the House votes, said Patrick Burns, director of environmental and energy policy for the pro-industry Citizens for a Sound
Economy, which has organized a national voter education and lobbying campaign in support of the plan.
"The problem is that the environmental position is no position at all," Burns said. "Conservation apparently is their sole answer, but for a growing population and America's families, conservation is not the sole answer."
One indicator of the mood of the House may be last week's vote in which 19 House Republicans sided with Democrats in reinstating the Clinton administration's rule toughening the standard for arsenic in drinking water. The standard was set aside by Bush.