A Plot to Drill Arctic Refuge

A very good OP/Ed in the Boston Globe reminds us of another important issue still at stake: The Arctic Refuge.

Editor’s Note: There are so many issues on the table these days, it’s hard to keep on top of them all. The mission here at The Democratic Daily is break through the Noise Machine and keep on top of as many of the issues as we can. We’ve been online for a month on the 2oth. Thanks to all our regulars for your support, we’re here because of you!

A plot to drill Arctic Refuge
By Allen E. Smith | August 19, 2005

CONGRESSIONAL leaders seem to be plotting a budget maneuver that will authorize oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The Energy Bill just signed into law is silent on Arctic Refuge, but Congress can use a deceptive budget maneuver to avoid the very Senate rules that kept it out of the Energy Bill. Congress earlier passed the FY 2006 Budget Resolution with instructions to the House and Senate resources committees to find $2.4 billion of ”savings” in the Interior Department budget by Sept. 16. That Budget Resolution is also silent on Arctic Refuge, but majority leaders have indicated they will use those instructions to justify authorization of Arctic Refuge drilling. The plan would be to use inflated revenue projections to reconcile the FY 2006 Budget with current law. Raising $2.4 billion from Arctic Refuge leasing will never happen. The Administration would have to receive oil industry bonus bids averaging $4,000 per acre for the 600,000 acres it would offer for lease to receive that much revenue.

Actual North Slope lease rates have averaged well below $100 per acre and are not expected to change. Just north of the Arctic Refuge in the Beaufort Sea, Minerals Management Service recently leased 618,751 acres to the oil industry for $46.7 million, an average of $75 per acre, not $4,000. Arctic Refuge leasing revenue at that rate would be $45 million, a fraction of the $2.4 billion called for in the reconciliation instructions.

Arctic Refuge development will not reduce our budget deficit or dependence on imported oil nor will it improve our national energy security. Our nation uses 25 percent of the world’s produced oil but has at most only 3 percent of world oil reserves. Sacrificing the Arctic Refuge will not change that. We are vulnerable and cannot drill our way out of these facts.

Our political leadership fails to address the need to change our nation’s energy diet now to avoid catastrophic economic, ecological, and national security consequences later. Aggressive strategies of conservation, alternatives, renewables, and efficiencies are the only realistic long-term solutions, yet our government fails to act while the crisis deepens. Nowhere is this failure more starkly portrayed than in the energy bill just signed into law, which includes no meaningful increase in the fuel efficiency of our largest single use of oil — cars and trucks. The leadership would sacrifice the internationally recognized values of the Arctic Refuge itself before adopting a sustainable energy strategy.

The Arctic Refuge coastal plain is the biological heart of one of America’s most extraordinary natural landscapes. Vital to indigenous native people who rely on its wildlife for their cultural and traditional way of life, it is an irreplaceable sacred place that should be left wild.

Congress should refuse to authorize Arctic Refuge development. The $2.4 billion fails to meet any standard for inclusion in the FY 2006 Budget, which the Congressional Research Service reports will further increase our national deficits if passed into law.

Twenty-four Republican members of the US House of Representatives, led by Jeb Bradley of New Hampshire, have sent a letter to congressional leadership stating that the budget process ”is an inappropriate venue to be debating this important environmental issue.” Every member of Congress should be held accountable for his vote on this. To meet its fiduciary responsibilities, Congress must remove this $2.4 billion from the budget reconciliation and not let it become a scheme to force Arctic Refuge drilling.

It is an empty pinata, filled with false promises, a diversion from securing a more sustainable national energy policy. It would be a scandalous raid on our public wildland heritage and treasury, and should be rejected.

Allen E. Smith, who was the Alaska regional director for The Wilderness Society, is a freelance writer.

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