WASHINGTON - Political maneuvering in the Senate is
intensifying over U.S. administration plans to drill for oil in
the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
President George W. Bush and labor organizations are casting the
issue as important to national security in the wake of last
month's terrorist attacks.
Bush's energy plan - of which the arctic drilling proposal is a
part, along with increased investment in fossil fuels and nuclear
energy - aims to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
In early August, the Republican-controlled House of
Representatives approved a broad energy bill that would allow some
oil drilling in the refuge, a move strongly opposed by
environmentalists and most Democrats in the Senate.
Last week, Bush urged the Senate to pass his energy strategy and
open the refuge to oil drilling, casting the legislation as
important to domestic security. Supported by Republicans in
Congress, Bush said drilling in Alaska would reduce U.S. reliance
on Middle East oil. The United States imports 60 percent of its
daily oil consumption, up from 47 percent a decade ago.
''The less dependent we are on foreign sources of crude oil, the
more secure we are at home,'' said Bush.
Organized labor is generally considered aligned with
Congressional Democrats but its support for drilling in the refuge
has complicated the already delicate balance of power between
Senate Democrats and Republicans.
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters strongly supports
drilling in the refuge, arguing this would create hundreds of
thousands of jobs while reducing energy costs and dependence on
''In light of the terrorist attacks of September 11, we must act
immediately to reduce our dependence on oil from politically
unstable parts of the world, especially the Persian Gulf,'' said
Jerry Hood, special assistant on energy to Teamsters General
President James Hoffa.
The Teamsters helped push the measure through the House. Drilling
proponents hope that labor unions will now win over Democratic
Senators, who are under pressure from environmentalists to vote
Senator Frank Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska who strongly
supports drilling in the refuge, has accused Democrats of not
wanting to raise the bill in committee because they would lose.
Republican lawmakers, backed by the administration, are pressing
for a straight majority vote, which Republicans have said they
In response to Bush, Tom Daschle, the Democratic leader in the
Senate, has offered to allow a vote on the Senate floor regarding
drilling in the refuge. His office says he is willing to allow the
vote because he is confident that Republicans do not have the 60
votes needed to break an expected Democratic filibuster.
While he opposes drilling in the refuge, Daschle says he would
support construction of a natural gas pipeline from Alaska's North
Slope. Proponents say this project would produce 400,000 jobs.
Billions of cubic meters of natural gas accompany the oil
currently extracted in Alaska but it is reinserted into the ground
because no pipeline exists to transport it.
''If we need to tap into the resources of Alaska, let's do it with
this pipeline,'' Daschle said Friday.
Critics of drilling in the refuge argue that, according to
government estimates, opening up the preserve to exploitation
would not yield oil for at least seven years and then yield enough
for only 140 days.
''Giving oil companies a green light to drill a national treasure
has nothing to do with addressing the crisis at hand,'' says Jamie
Rappaport Clark, senior vice president for conservation programs
at the National Wildlife Federation.
Established in 1960 by President Dwight Eisenhower, the arctic
refuge is home to more than 180 species of birds and numerous
mammals including polar bears, caribou, musk ox, wolves,
wolverine, moose, arctic and red foxes, black bears, brown bears,
and the white Dall sheep. Indigenous communities live, hunt, and
fish on the refuge.
Environmentalists argue that even if drilling is allowed in
Alaska, the Department of Energy projects a 25-30 percent increase
in U.S. oil imports from the Middle East and Caspian Sea over the
next 20 years.
The public ''should look skeptically at a plan that, in the name
of addressing terrorism, will lock the United States into an
increasingly vulnerable fossil fuel and nuclear dependent
future,'' says John Passacantando, executive director of
More than a hundred environmental organizations are urging
Senators to consider an alternative energy strategy that aims to
reduce dependence on imported oil through investments in renewable
energy sources such as wind, biomass, and solar power.
Released by the Washington-based Union of Concerned Scientists
(UCS) on Monday, the plan, known as the ''Clean Energy Blueprint''
already has the support of Senator James Jeffords, an Independent
from the northeastern state of Vermont who chairs the environment
The alternative strategy promotes energy efficiency policies and
the adoption of a federal renewable energy standard that would
require electric utility companies to increase use of non-
hydropower renewable sources by 20 percent by the year 2020.
''If there is truly a commitment to creating energy security in
the United States, enacting federal renewable standards will
reduce the vulnerability of our energy system to disruption,''
says Alan Nogee, director of the clean energy program at UCS.
Copyright 2001 Inter Press Service - IPS