WASHINGTON - Political maneuvering in the Senate is intensifying over
U.S. administration plans to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife
George W. Bush and labor organizations are casting the issue as important
to national security in the wake of last month's terrorist attacks.
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.
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.
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.
less dependent we are on foreign sources of crude oil, the more secure
we are at home,'' said Bush.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
need to tap into the resources of Alaska, let's do it with this pipeline,''
Daschle said Friday.
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.
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.
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.
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.
''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
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.
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.
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
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