GOP Senators unveil drilling proposal
Facebook Twitter Email
FEBRUARY 27, 2001

Setting off a political and environmental debate, a number of Senate Republicans on Monday unveiled their proposal to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil development.

With the nation focused on the energy crisis, the Senators hope to convince Americans of the importance of drilling for oil in a small area of the pristine refuge. According to an Associated Press poll, however, Americans are mindful of rising costs of energy yet a majority oppose drilling in the Arctic.

But the GOP now has a key ally in the fight: the new administration. President George W. Bush, Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham, and Secretary of Interior Gale Norton -- all Republicans -- support development in the region's north slope.

This contrasts heavily the views of their predecessors. Although former President Bill Clinton declined to designate ANWR a national monument, former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt was one of many who worked to defeat a a bill introduced in March 2000 by Senator Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) that would have opened up the refuge to drilling.

Murkowski, Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, hopes the outcome will be different this time around. The chief author of the National Energy Security Act of 2001, Murkowski believes the refuge can be developed without harming the environment, thanks to advances in technology.

"Don't underestimate the advanced technology that we have, whether it comes in reducing the footprint, drilling in the wintertime -- where we have ice roads -- or ensuring that the caribou will be protected," said Murkowski, displaying a picture of an Arctic caribou herd at a press conference yesterday.

The caribou is a key concern of the Gwich'in Alaska Natives, who depend on it for cultural and subsistence purposes. Gwich'in means "people of the caribou" and the tribe has opposed development despite assurances from politicians like Murkowski.

But drilling is supported by other Alaska Natives. The Arctic Slope Subregional Corporation, an Inupiat Eskimo-owned corporation, has economic development interests in ANWR and surrounding areas.

"Our people are very much in support of development of the Coastal Plain of ANWR and we support and applaud the efforts of Senator Murkowski and his colleagues for taking the lead on this issue," said Tara Sweeney, Arctic Slope's representative.

Murkowski's proposal does have bipartisan support. Senator Dan Breaux (D-Louisiana) introduced a companion bill which provides billions of dollars of tax incentives aimed at increasing domestic energy production.

But other Democrats have doubts. Senator John Kerry (D-Mass) on Monday said he would filibuster Murkowski's bill and Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-N.Mex), the ranking Democrat on the Energy Committee, questioned the feasibility of Breaux's plan.

"I believe it is valid to say that the industry does not need additional tax incentives in order to go forward and explore and produce petroleum products," said Bingaman. "We cannot just produce our way to independence from foreign oil supplies."

President Bush tonight will make his first address to the American public and is expected to discuss his national energy policy. Senator Pete Domenici (R-N.Mex) is co-sponsoring Murkowski's bill.

Get the Bill:
National Energy Security Act of 2001

Relevant Links:
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, US Fish and Wildlife Service -
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Pro-Development site -
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee -

Arctic drilling won't be easy battle (Enviro 02/12)
Outlook for Arctic drilling positive (Enviro 02/08)
Norton: No timetable on Arctic drilling (Enviro 02/05)
Poll: Most oppose Arctic drilling (Enviro 02/02)
Bush promotes drilling in Arctic (Enviro 01/30)
White House says no monument for Arctic (Enviro 01/11)
Babbitt urges against Arctic monument (Enviro 01/05)
Fate of Arctic Refuge may lie with Bush (Enviro 12/15)
EDITORIAL: Preserve Arctic Refuge (The Talking Circle 12/15)
Development of refuge urged (Enviro 11/02)
Protection of Alaska refuge urged (Enviro 11/01)
Alaska Natives fight monument (Enviro 09/07)
Tribe fights drilling (Enviro 05/24)