WASHINGTON -- March 23 -- Sixteen years ago tomorrow, the Exxon Valdez ran aground on a reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska, dumping 11 million gallons of crude oil onto Alaskas shores. The biological and economic shocks this disaster caused are still felt to this day. However, rather than learn from this environmental tragedy, Congress and the current administration, along with the oil industry, are still ignoring ways to curb our oil dependence. Instead, they continue their push to drill in the fragile, unspoiled wilderness of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and are looking for ways to open up more of America's coasts.
"As we look back on the devastation of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, our leaders should pursue the innovative clean energy solutions available today that would reduce our oil dependence - and consequently the risk to America's coastlines and favorite beaches," said Carl Pope, Sierra Club Executive Director. "No matter how much of Americas natural heritage we sacrifice, we cant drill our way to energy independence. But we can use existing technology to make all of our vehicles go farther on a gallon of gas, and invest in clean, renewable energy."
Last Wednesday, 51 US Senators started the clock ticking for the devastation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But they also started the clock ticking for every other special place that oil and gas interests want for their own exclusive benefit -- the California, Florida and Atlantic coasts, the Rocky Mountain Front, the Great Lakes, Otero Mesa, and others. The push to drill the Arctic Refuge is the linchpin in a much broader agenda where no place is off-limits to Big Oil. Just last year, Rep. Tom DeLay conceded that the controversy over drilling in the Refuge is a "symbolic" debate about whether or not oil and gas drilling should be allowed in pristine wild areas across the country and off our coasts.
Automakers have the technology to make America's vehicles - from sedans to SUVs to pickup trucks - average 40 miles per gallon within 10 years. This would save more oil that we currently import from the Persian Gulf and could ever get from the Arctic Refuge combined - more than 986 Exxon Valdez-size tanker trips every year. Taking this step would save consumers money at the gas pump, cut Americas oil dependence, curb the heat-trapping pollution that causes global warming, and protect Americas special places like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
"Oil companies, including ExxonMobil, know that Americas energy future does not lie in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge," continued Pope. "Americans deserve an energy policy that offers responsible, clean energy solutions - not one that panders to corporate polluters."
Some of Americas coasts, protected by a federal moratorium for more than two decades, are increasingly vulnerable. In Virginia, the legislature voted recently to lift the moratorium for oil leasing off their coast. The controversial bill, which had virtually no debate and no public notice, now sits on Governor Mark Warners desk.
In Florida, Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL) agreed to trade his Arctic Refuge vote last week for a mere reiteration of an earlier commitment made by President Bush not to drill off Florida's coast for the next seven years.
"Senator Martinez essentially gave away Florida's coasts," said Pope. "His deal is an open invitation to the oil companies: 'When you're finished in Alaska, come on down to Florida. Floridians want, and deserve, permanent protection for their fragile shores, not the chance that the next big oil spill will be off their coasts."
To mark the anniversary of the Exxon Valdez tragedy, concerned citizens in Anchorage, Alaska, will gather to voice their opposition of years of broken promises made by the oil industry and other drilling proponents. Prince William Sound has yet to recover from the Exxon Valdez oil spill and, on the wake of a recent massive spill off the island of Unalaska, there is still no sound spill response plan for Alaska waters even as critical areas like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are being targeted for additional development. For information on the rally, please call Betsy Goll in the Sierra Club's Alaska office at (907) 276-4044.