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Fight Over Arctic Refuge Intensifies (IPS)

by Inter Press Service Friday, Oct. 19, 2001 at 3:20 PM

More Than 100 Environmental Organizations Propose ''Clean Energy Blueprint''

Fight Over Arctic Refuge Intensifies


  var mydate=new Date() var theYear=mydate.getFullYear() var day=mydate.getDay() var month=mydate.getMonth() var daym=mydate.getDate() if (daym
More Than 100 Environmental Organizations Propose ''Clean Energy Blueprint''
Fight Over Arctic Refuge Intensifies
by Danielle Knight
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 foreign oil.

''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 against it.

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 would win.

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 Greenpeace-U.S.

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 committee.

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


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