WASHINGTON -- April 29 -- The passage of this budget resolution means that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is still at risk. A budget conference report need not say the words Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to pave the way for Arctic Refuge drilling. At the same time, we are encouraged by the strong bipartisan opposition to this budget resolution. In particular, Rep. Nancy Johnson (R, CT) deserves the gratitude of all conservation-minded Americans for her leadership in making the vote in the US House of Representatives a strong bipartisan statement against drilling.
The budget process is not over, and we will continue to fight every step of the way, using every procedural and legislative option at our disposal, to ensure that Congress ultimately listens to the majority of Americans and rejects every effort to include Arctic Refuge drilling in the reconciliation bill.
Although the resolution that passed today does not mention the Refuge by name, it is clearly intended to provide the chairmen of the House Resources and Senate Energy Committees everything they need to push drilling through by circumventing the normal 60-vote requirement for controversial legislation in the Senate. Both committees chairmen, Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA), have made it clear that they will try to use these instructions to force Arctic drilling through the reconciliation bill.
By requiring those committees to reduce spending by $2.4 billion over 6 years, the budget conferees are sending those committees a clear and unambiguous signal to drill away. It is no coincidence that $2.4 billion is almost exactly the federal share of the unrealistic projection for Arctic National Wildlife Refuge leasing revenue released several months ago by the Congressional Budget Office. Pressed by reporters at Thursdays press conference, Senator Gregg was forced to concede that this budget would allow the Senate to consider drilling in the filibuster-proof reconciliation bill. [CALL (202) 266-0409 to hear a recording of the reporters question and Sen. Greggs answer.]
This vote is another example of the extraordinary disconnect between public opinion and Congressional action. Americans have remained steadfast in their commitment to keeping the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge wild, unspoiled, and free of oil drilling. To an even greater extent, they are overwhelmingly opposed to sneaking drilling the Arctic Refuge into the budget process. Over the past several weeks, hundreds of thousands of Americans have called, written letters, e-mailed, and faxed their representatives in Washington to voice their opposition to Arctic Refuge drilling. And starting today, they will be letting their Members of Congress know how unhappy they are about this vote and encouraging their representatives in Washington to continue to fight to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
There are some places that should be off-limits to oil drilling and industrial development, and the Arctic Refuge is one of them. Drilling would do nothing to reduce gas prices or alleviate our dependence on foreign oil, yet the harm to wildlife habitat for polar bear, caribou, and millions of migratory birds and to the people of the Gwich'in Nation whose subsistence culture is based on the caribou would be permanent and irreparable. We have a moral responsibility to save wild places like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for future generations. Thats why our country has remained committed to its protection for nearly 50 years.