Norton makes case for Arctic drilling
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FEBRUARY 13, 2001

Setting the stage for what could be President George W. Bush's biggest environmental debate, Secretary of Interior Gale Norton is once again making the case for opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil development.

Without stating a specific timetable, Norton in an interview on Monday said the Bush administration intends to study the issue "thoroughly" before going to Congress with their proposal. Congressional authorization is required before the refuge can be opened up for development although attempts to do just that have failed in the past.

Its not just Congress who needs convincing, though. According to an Associated Press poll, 53 percent of Americans oppose drilling in the Arctic while 33 percent said they support it.

As the nation becomes more aware of California's energy crisis -- which threatens to spread to the Pacific Northwest -- Norton is hoping the public will see the administration's point of view. But while environmental groups paint the debate as one of conservation and protection, Norton is focusing on an issue which might hit Americans where it counts most: their pocketbooks.

"The American public is becoming increasingly concerned about the need for energy," said Norton. "As we are seeing blackouts in California, people become more concerned about the elderly who may not have a steady supply of heat for their home, or those who are struggling to commute to their jobs and are not able to pay the high prices of gasoline."

"To have both a dynamic economy -- jobs for our citizens -- and a great environment at the same time, we’re going to have to carefully study how we can have energy development in the most environmentally responsible manner that is possible," she added.

Repeating key points she made in her confirmation testimony before the Senate and in other interviews since, Norton said development could occur without harming the environment. Drilling could occur in a very small area of the refuge in the winter, utilize only ice roads, and be halted before the star of the mating season for the caribou, argues Norton.

How drilling will affect the caribou population in the refuge is not only a concern for environmentalists but for the Gwich'in Alaska Natives. The Gwich'in consider the caribou sacred and depend on it for subsistence.

Norton's interview with Lynn Scarlett is available at Tech Central Station.

Relevant Links:
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, US Fish and Wildlife Service -
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Pro-Development site -

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