Bush vows change in lands attitude
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MARCH 14, 2001

As his administration gears up for a battle over its national energy policy, President George W. Bush on Tuesday vowed to change how Americans feel about developing public lands.

"There's a mentality that says you can't explore and protect land," Bush told reporters yesterday. "We're going to change that attitude. You can explore and protect land."

Bush's pledge comes as Republican lawmakers slowly seek ways to undo a decade's worth of environmental policy. Yesterday, the House Committee on Resources attacked a number of President Clinton's national monument designations which Chairman Jim Hansen (R-Utah) said were "crammed down the throats of the local people."

But more importantly, it also comes as key government officials, including Secretary of Interior Gale Norton, push for what the GOP calls a "balanced" approach to the environment. Criticizing her predecessor, Norton last week agreed to allow mining and oil drilling at national monuments so long as local and state governments sought such uses.

Still, the administration and their Republican allies face opponents not only in Democrats and environmentalists but in ordinary Americans who value continued conservation of America's shared natural resources. A New York Times-CBS poll released today shows that 61 percent of respondents believe protecting the environment is more important than serving the energy needs of consumers.

For CEO Bush, however, overcoming this priority is easy because the bottom line is something which all Americans understand: economics. The message he is sending is that all public lands, including national monuments, are open for development so long as the benefits outweigh the costs.

"It depends upon the cost-benefit ratio . . . but there are parts of the monument lands where we an explore without affecting the overall environment," said Bush. "Obviously, there are some places where we're not going to put a drilling rig, some of the crown jewels of our environment."

"But there are some lands that are, to me, suitable for exploration," he added.

Home to caribou, polar bears, wolves, and numerous other birds, fish, and wildlife, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska, in Bush's eyes, is suitable for development. But to the Gwich'in Alaska Natives who also call the region home and conservationists, including President Jimmy Carter, it is one of America's crown jewels which should not be disturbed.

According to today's poll, a majority of Americans agree. Some 57 percent of Americans oppose drilling in ANWR, up from 50 percent several months ago.

Yet a majority of Alaskans, a number of whom stand to benefit economically from drilling, have expressed support for exploration. According to Dittman Research, an Alaska polling company, local approval over the past ten years has been as high as 75 percent (February 2001) and as low as 64 percent (November 1989).

The Arctic Slope Regional Corp., an Alaska Native corporation, also supports drilling. The corporation has mineral rights to 92,000 acres of land in ANWR's north slope, the region targeted for development.

Get the New York Times/CBS Poll (See Questions 52 and 53):
Telephone Survey of Americans on President Bush (NYT/CBS 3/14)

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

Related Stories:
State spends more money on Arctic drilling (Enviro 3/13)
GOP Senators unveil drilling proposal (Enviro 2/27)
Norton makes case for Arctic drilling (Enviro 02/13)
Norton: No timetable on Arctic drilling (Enviro 2/5)
White House says no monument for Arctic (Enviro 01/11)
Babbitt urges against Arctic monument (Enviro 1/5)