WASHINGTON -- The House voted yesterday to let snowmobiles continue using Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, as the recreation industry dealt a defeat to environmentalists.
By 224-198, the chamber rebuffed an effort to ban the vehicles by lawmakers who said the machines cause pollution and noise, and pose a danger to the parks' wildlife.
''Yellowstone National Park is a unique environment, a precious national treasure that deserves an extra level of protection," said Representative Rush Holt, Democrat of New Jersey, one of the sponsors.
Snowmobile advocates, backed by snowmobile manufacturers and tourism interests, said a ban would devastate the local economy around the parks, which lie mostly in northwestern Wyoming. They also said that despite their opponents' assertions, new snowmobiles are cleaner and quieter than older models.
''They come in and say, 'We're going to cut you in half. We're taking half your income away,' " Represenative Dennis Rehberg, Republican of Montana, said of those supporting the ban. ''Our communities can't withstand that."
The snowmobiling issue has mushroomed into a legal dispute that federal courts have yet to untangle. Because the two parks are among the country's most renowned, the battle has also became an election-year symbol of a conflict frequently joined in Congress between environmental and economic interests.
The fight came as the House worked its way through a $19.5 billion measure financing the Interior Department and other land and cultural programs for next year. The overall bill, which passed by 334-86, would provide less than President Bush proposed for clean energy projects and adding land to parks, but more than he wanted for fighting wildfires that have already flared in the West.
In other battles,
Representative Maurice Hinchey, Democrat of New York, lost a bid to prohibit the National Park Service from killing any bison from Yellowstone's herd by a 215-202 vote. Some animals from that herd, which numbers about 3,700, are killed each winter after leaving the park either to prevent the spread of disease or because they could not be coaxed back inside.
The House rejected, 267-152, a proposal by Representative Bernard Sanders, Independent of Vermont, to force the government to sell some oil from its strategic petroleum reserve in an effort to drive down gasoline prices.
Last year, a proposed snowmobile ban in the two parks was defeated in a 210-210 vote; a majority was needed for passage.
In 2000, President Clinton imposed a plan to phase out snowmobiles in Yellowstone and Grand Teton and the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway that connects them. The vehicles were to be barred completely by this coming winter and replaced by snow coaches that could carry groups of people into the parks.