Instant science behind Bush energy policy


April 9, 2002

What do you do if a scientific report raises serious questions about proposed public policy?

If you're an honest, open-minded public official, interested only in what's best for the republic, you pause, consider the information carefully, re-examine your basic assumptions -- and maybe even admit you're wrong and change directions .

If you're a member of the Bush administration, interested only in what's best for the oil and gas industry, you simply ignore the facts -- and order up another instant study that agrees with your preconceived notions.

On the issue of drilling for oil in the Arctic Refuge, that's just what Bush's Interior Department did this week. For 12 years, scientists collected data on the impact of oil exploration on wildlife, especially the unique Porcupine caribou herd, which migrates to the Arctic Refuge to bear and raise its calves.

The final report, issued last week by the U.S. Geological Survey, was devastating. Scientists examined five different drilling scenarios. All five, they concluded, would adversely impact the native habitat of musk oxen, snow geese, polar bears and caribou -- three of them, seriously.

The USGS report contradicted congressional testimony of Interior Secretary Gale Norton that drilling would have absolutely no effect on caribou. It also repudiated the ludicrous campaign promise of President Bush that oil companies could move men and equipment onto the Arctic slope and take the oil out "without leaving a footprint."

Faced with such damning evidence, what did Norton do? Tell Bush and Cheney to do the right thing and scuttle Arctic drilling plans? Go back to Congress and admit she was wrong? Resign? Of course not. She did just what George Bush did when scientists told him that global warming was real and he was wrong. Bush never lets facts get in the way of his fairy tales. Handed science he doesn't like, Bush goes out and buys science he can.

So, the very day the first USGS report was released, Secretary Norton, no doubt acting under orders from the White House, ordered the same scientists to come up with another set of conclusions. Just seven days later --mirabile dictu -- they said there would be no negative impact on wildlife from drilling in the Arctic.

You decide. One study result was based on scientific observation over 12 years; the other, rushed through in seven days. One was driven by pure science; the other, by pure politics. Which one would you believe? Bush and Norton are wasting their time trying to convince the rest of us that drilling is environmentally safe. We know it's not.

But there's a much more practical reason to abandon plans for turning the Arctic Refuge into the next oil rush town : There's simply not enough oil to make it worthwhile.

According to oil industry estimates, economically recoverable crude from full production of the Arctic Refuge would take 10 years to develop -- and, even then, would provide only a six- to eight-month supply of fossil fuels for the United States. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham himself projects at best a 12-month maximum supply. And that same amount of energy could be supplied -- immediately -- by a mere increase of 3 miles per gallon in the fuel efficiency of American cars.

The answer to America's energy needs lies in Detroit, not Alaska. This is why several oil companies, led by British Petroleum, have already announced they are no longer interested in exploring the Arctic Refuge. It will take too long, it will yield too little oil, and it will be tied up too long in costly litigation. For the long term, these companies have set their sights instead on the Gulf of Mexico and the Caspian Sea.

Still, ignoring all evidence to the contrary, Bush and Cheney persist in making the Arctic Refuge their energy pipe dream. It defies both science and common sense. And it's an outrage to the memory of a much more far-sighted president.

In 1956, President Eisenhower, while opening 95 percent of the Alaskan slope to oil development, set aside 5 percent as permanent, protected wilderness. Most Americans will never go there, but Ike wanted us to know that, somewhere, there existed a stretch of Alaskan tundra just the way God made it, unscarred by human activity.

That's the Arctic refuge. That's the last American wilderness. That's the legacy of President Eisenhower. That's what George Bush and Dick Cheney, needlessly, want to destroy. Shame.

Arctic drilling deal fails in Senate


April 15, 2002

Senate proponents of drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge were dealt a blow Monday as their last-ditch attempts to gather enough votes for passage through a deal aimed at luring steel state senators fell apart.

"It's quite dead," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-West Virginia, of the proposed deal, making it almost certain that drilling for oil in the refuge would not pass the Senate.

Lacking the votes to pass what Republicans see as a key provision of their energy reform bill, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, approached Rockefeller last week.

Stevens hoped to appeal to senators from states with failing steel companies by offering to use royalties from oil leases in the Arctic refuge to fund health-care benefits for retired steel workers.

"He said, 'I need oil and you need steel so let's work together,'" said Rockefeller, "and I'm not going to say no, no way."

Stevens hoped that by making a deal with Rockefeller, who has consistently voted against drilling in the Alaska refuge, other senators with steel workers in their states would change their votes, too.

But Rockefeller demanded a promise, in writing, from the White House and key House Republicans that aid to steel workers would not be dropped in House-Senate conference.

White House officials told Rockefeller they would give a promise only if he first gathered the 60 votes needed to pass the package.

"By asking for that much, you're raising the bar higher than was reasonable," said Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pennsylvania, who was also trying to work out a deal.

After meeting with Commerce Secretary Don Evans, Rockefeller said it was clear the White House did not support the deal.

"I know Don well enough that he doesn't have to use words with me," said Rockefeller, who also said he thought President Bush "doesn't care about the steel workers."

Republicans delayed the Arctic refuge vote last week to buy time to gather votes, but without a deal on the steel industry provision most believe it is unlikely to pass.

"It will be difficult to pass without steel," said Santorum.

Drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is already in the House-passed energy reform bill and therefore will be on the table during the House-Senate negotiations even if it fails in the Senate.

The Senate is expected to take up the drilling issue early this week.

Senate rejects drilling in arctic refuge


April 18, 2002

The Senate by a wide margin on Thursday rejected oil development in an Arctic wildlife refuge that has been a centerpiece of the Bush administration's energy agenda.

Senate Republicans fell 14 votes short, 54-46, of the 60 needed to break a Democratic filibuster and allow a vote on an amendment to open the wildlife refuge to oil companies.

Given the vote, the amendment's sponsors were expected to withdraw it, clearing the way for approval of an energy bill by the Senate, possibly next week.

The size of the Republican defeat, with pro-drilling forces falling short of even a majority, signaled that oil development of the Alaska refuge may be dead in Congress for this year.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said President Bush would continue to fight for opening the refuge. But he sidestepped a question on whether Bush would sign an energy bill that does not include refuge drilling.

The Senate "missed an opportunity to lead America to greater energy independence, " said Fleischer.

Eight Republicans joined most Democrats in opposing the drilling measure. Five Democrats supported the drilling amendment, offered by the two Alaska senators.

While the House last summer approved drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, that bill will have to be reconciled with legislation expected to be passed by the Senate. Drilling supporters in Congress and at the White House have worried that a poor showing in the Senate might jeopardize getting a drilling measure out of the House-Senate negotiations.

Drilling supporters argued the refuge's oil was essential for America's energy security and its development would produce tens of thousands of jobs.

But Democrats said no oil would flow for a decade and would have little impact in oil imports or fuel prices.

"Development (of the refuge) would irreversibly damage this natural resource," said Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., a leader of the filibuster.

Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, who has led the fight to open the refuge, said that without ANWR drilling "there is not one single thing in this energy bill that increases oil production.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, blamed "radical environmental organizations" for shutting off a needed energy resource. His state would receive half of the royalties from oil taken from the refuge.

An attempt to gain some pro-drilling votes by funneling money from future Arctic refuge oil leases to help steelworkers and coal miners was rejected 64-36.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., who has led efforts in the Senate to try to help steelworkers facing economic hard times, called the proposal "an empty promise" that could later be dropped, and urged its rejection.

Drilling for the billions of barrels of oil believed to lie beneath the 1.5 million-acre coastal plain of the sprawling refuge has been the most contentious issue facing senators trying to craft energy legislation.

Bush repeatedly has argued that the oil can be extracted without harming the environment or wildlife, and he has cited Iraq's current oil embargo as proof that new drilling is needed more than ever.

But environmentalists and many Senate Democrats -- as well as a handful of GOP senators -- argued the oil can be found elsewhere without risking the refuge and its wildlife, including a herd of 123,000 caribou that calves each year on the coastal plain.

During two days of sometimes emotional debate, drilling supporters assailed "radical" environmentalists who have opposed drilling and talked as much about the recent turmoil in the Middle East and Iraq's suspension of oil shipments as about the refuge itself.

"There's an inferno in the Mideast and we're importing more than 50 percent of our oil," said Murkowski, arguing that extracting the oil in ANWR is a matter of national security because it will cut the need for imports.

Drilling opponents scoffed at that argument.

"I've learned a few lessons about national security as a soldier and a senator, but the mathematics I learned in elementary school prove that Arctic drilling won't make a difference for national security," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., a decorated Vietnam veteran.

Kerry said the United States has 3 percent of the world's oil and uses 25 percent of the supply. "The solution is not in the Arctic," he said.

If energy security was the issue, he said, Republicans should have supported his proposal, which was rejected earlier, to require increased automobile fuel efficiency.

The drilling issue has attracted intense lobbying by environmentalists who have made it their No. 1 issue. Stung last summer when the Republican-controlled House passed an energy bill that would open the refuge to oil development, they vowed to press the issue in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

"Oil rigs do not belong in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge," said Mark Van Putten, president of the National Wildlife Federation.

Geologists believe ANWR's 1.5 million-acre coastal plain may contain 11.6 billion barrels of oil, almost as much as has been taken from nearby Prudhoe Bay.

At peak production, ANWR would supply about 1.9 million barrels a day, according to the Interior Department estimates. The United States today uses 19 million barrels a day, 57 percent of that from imports.

As the Senate vote neared, lobbyists for the Teamsters touted the jobs that drilling would produce. Rival Alaska native groups have flown in from the North Slope to argue both for and against drilling. The state of Alaska, which would get half the royalties from oil development, has poured millions of dollars into the pro-drilling effort.

The big oil companies, however, largely have kept silent, their attention on exploration elsewhere.

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