The secret's out: Not even the oil industry's closest allies in the White House
and Congress really believe what they're telling Americans to justify drilling
in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The industry's supporters have long
argued that drilling in the nation's largest remaining wilderness is somehow important
to national security, despite the U.S. Geological Survey's estimate that the refuge
contains the recoverable equivalent of only six months worth of oil -- a supply
that wouldn't even be available for another 10 years.
They claim that drilling
would have no impact on wildlife, despite the fact that development would convert
the refuge's 1.5 million acre coastal plain into a carbon copy of the sprawling
oil fields next door in Prudhoe Bay -- a vast industrial complex filled with toxic
wastes and more air pollution than most American cities.
And they continue
to make policy as if fossil fuels, responsible for global warming and air pollution,
are the only answers, ignoring nonpolluting renewables in order to continue lavishing
the fossil fuel industries with hundreds of millions of dollars a year in federal
subsidies and tax breaks.
Given this track record, it was startling to hear
one of the industry's biggest champions, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas,
tell a closed-door meeting of GOP leaders last week that the real reason for drilling
in the refuge is the ''precedent'' it would set. Breaking into the refuge, DeLay
suggested, would carry enormous ''symbolism'' and pave the way for drilling in
other national parks, refuges and coastal areas long off limits to the oil industry.
His bluntness shocked even some of his GOP colleagues, but DeLay was right.
Drilling in the ANWR would set a precedent -- a terrible one.
Because it is
a true wilderness, and a remote one at that, the Arctic refuge is not a tourist
attraction in the same way that Yosemite or the Grand Canyon is. But it remains
vitally important -- important to the ecology of the Arctic; to the caribou, polar
bear and other mammals that birth their young there every year; to the native
Gwich'in people, who consider the refuge to be sacred ground; and, in a larger
sense, to all of us as a people.
Part of our heritage
Ours is a nation that
was forged from the frontier; the wilderness was the first challenge to chisel
the American character. What little remains of it is part of our heritage and
deserves to be protected.
Do we place so little value on that heritage now
that we would trade it for just six months worth of oil, payable only in installments
10 years down the road? And if the ''precedent'' is set in the Arctic refuge,
which national parks, or scenic coastlines, will be next?
And why sacrifice
our national parks in the name of profits to an industry that refuses to change,
when even just a slight increase in fuel economy could save us more oil now than
we will have to wait 10 years to receive from the ANWR?
Instead of fighting
over our national parks and wildlife refuges, let's work together to craft the
kind of energy policy that the United States really needs -- one that truly will
enhance our independence from foreign oil by tapping into the virtually inexhaustible
potential of nonpolluting renewable fuels.
We need an energy policy that does
more than run on empty; one that puts us on the road to real energy security and
benefits all Americans, not just the special interests. Drilling in the ANWR is
a detour that dead-ends at the next gas station.
Brooks Yeager is vice president
of the World Wildlife Fund.
Copyright 1996-2003 Knight Ridder