A Voice for the Wilderness
Published on Wednesday, July 13, 2005 by the Boston Globe
A Voice for the Wilderness
by Derrick Z. Jackson
On the White House design to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a certain person said: ''One is entitled to wonder about this administration's concern over energy security. A policy that continues primary emphasis on digging up a little more fragile land for a little more oil is not a substitute for a sound, long-range energy program and, in fact, will perpetuate our increasing dependence on foreign oil."

That could have been said today as President Bush drives Congress to the brink of drilling. The House passed an energy bill that would allow oil drilling in the refuge. In the Senate, Republicans are avoiding a Democratic filibuster by placing drilling in a separate budget bill. Once again, neither the House nor the Senate endorsed the most obvious way to reduce our dependence on foreign oil: raising automotive fuel economy.

Actually, the above concern for the refuge was voiced 18 years ago by Gaylord Nelson. Nelson, who died last week at the age of 89, is the former Wisconsin senator and governor who founded Earth Day in 1970. In 1987, he was a spokesman for the Wilderness Society, a loud voice during the 12 years that the Reagan and senior Bush administrations pushed for drilling.

Ronald Reagan's first term was marked by the spectacular reign of Interior Secretary James Watt, who launched a wholesale opening up of natural lands to energy exploration but had to resign after bragging that he had a diverse staff of ''a black . . . a woman, two Jews, and a cripple." In 1984, Nelson said of the first term: ''The whole record is negative. I think it's a disaster in all respects. They've crippled the Environmental Protection Agency, they've gutted its budget, made it impossible to enforce the law. They've done nothing about acid rain."

In a speech before the National Press Club in 1990, Nelson said he founded Earth Day because, in his view, the most important issue facing human beings, above nuclear war, the economy, and jobs ''is the status of the resources on this planet. . . . Our air, water, soil, forests, oceans, rivers, lakes, scenic beauty, wildlife habitat, minerals, that is the wealth of the country. That's our wealth. And that wealth determines our standard of living, and it determines the quality, physical quality of our lives."

Nelson kept speaking right up until his death. In a 2003 appearance before the National Press Club, Nelson was asked to compare the administration of the junior Bush to past ones. Nelson said: ''I think this has been the most negative one. I thought of the slogan that I would support: 'Let's bring back Watt.' "

Nelson was asked anew about drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Bush had continued to push for it despite a National Academy of Sciences report that found that drilling had already degraded Alaska's North Slope. Nelson said: ''I'm opposed to it. Well, unless they include some graveyards, and they ought to have the guts enough to propose that we drill there."

In his last guest columns in Wisconsin newspapers last fall, Nelson said the refuge was Bush's ''centerpiece" of a misguided energy policy. He quoted President Eisenhower, who said: ''As we peer into society's future, we -- you and I, and our government -- must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for our own ease and convenience the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow."

Congress is headed toward plunder, with no thought to Nelson's legacy and the generations to come. Nelson said: ''Only the president has the prestige to step forward and capture the attention of the nation and provide the leadership so important at this stage in history. . . . The nation is confronted with a challenge far, far more serious than any war or economic depression in the history of our nation. The president has a golden opportunity to grasp this issue and steer the country on a path that will preserve the integrity of our sustaining ecosystem and the stability of our economic system. . . . Some president sometime must face the challenge on this issue. Let us hope it starts with President Bush."

Nelson said that in 1990 about Bush the elder. The son steers the country on a path that desecrates Nelson's grave.

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