Two dozen House Republicans, including three committee chairmen, have asked Speaker Dennis Hastert (search) not to use a congressional budget procedure to clear the way for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (search) in Alaska.

They said in a letter to Hastert, R-Ill., that the budget process "is an inappropriate venue to be debating this important environmental issue" and warned that it would further complicate already difficult budget issues.

"We believe the debate on opening this unique land to oil and gas exploration should be done outside the budget process," said the group led by Rep. Jeb Bradley (search), R-N.H., in an Aug. 4 letter made public Wednesday.

Among those signing the letter were three committee chairmen: Science Chairman Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y.; Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and Government Reform Chairman Thomas Davis, R-Va.

The letter also was sent to Budget Committee Chairman James Nussle, R-Iowa, and Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo, R-Calif. Pombo strongly supports opening the 1.5 million acre coastal plain of the Alaska refuge to oil development.

A Pombo spokeswoman said he had not yet decided whether to include a provision authorizing oil lease sales in the Alaska refuge in a so-called budget "reconciliation" document. Under congressional rules, drilling could be authorized if the Resource Committee decides to rely on an expected $2.4 billion from potential oil lease sales in the refuge to meet budget targets.

The House has repeatedly approved ANWR drilling in recent years only to have the matter die in the Senate where opponents have used filibusters to block the legislation. The budget reconciliation document, which has the force of law if approved and signed by President Bush, is not subject to filibuster.

ANWR drilling supporters failed to get an ANWR provision into the recently enacted energy bill. They were assured the issue would be taken up again as part of the budget process next month.

Most Democrats oppose developing the estimated 5 billion to 10 billion barrels of oil believed to lie beneath the refuge's coastal plain because they contend drilling would harm the wildlife there. If they gain the support of a significant number of Republicans, it could turn the tide against drilling when the issue comes up as part of the budget process next month.

While raising concerns, the 24 GOP lawmakers who signed the letter did not all say they would vote against the budget if an ANWR provision were included.