Bush makes last-ditch pitch for Arctic drilling
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Buoyed by a recent win for his national energy policy, President Bush on Tuesday made a last-minute plea to Congress to support opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil and natural gas development.

Hoping to strike a balance between production and conservation -- which Democrats and environmentalists say is lacking in his plan -- Bush offered his pitch as he signed an executive order on energy efficient devices. Government agencies, he said, should take the lead on conservation.

"The federal government can be good stewards of our resources and we fully intend to be," Bush told reporters yesterday.

The opportunity served as a perfect excuse to push drilling in the refuge, which is overseen by Secretary of Interior Gale Norton. Just two weeks ago, she praised the House Resources Committee for approving a bill to open up a "small" portion of the 19.5-million acre refuge to development.

Today, that proposal will be considered as the House debates a larger energy bill. The Republican leadership supports development and yesterday, they teamed up with the Teamsters labor union to point out the economic benefits increased production will bring.

Labor unions like the Teamsters rejected Bush during the campaign. But along with the AFL-CIO, the largest union in the country, the Teamsters have found themselves new allies with Republicans, claiming that drilling will create 25,000 jobs for union members and 750,000 jobs for the nation.

Yet moderate Republicans aren't going along with the party line. Along with Democrats, an attempt to strip the Arctic drilling provision from the 500-page bill.

Known as Title V, the provision authorizes Norton to establish a leasing program for the 1002 area of the refuge, which encompasses about 1.5 million acres. The Bush administration expects $2.1 billion to come from these leases by 2004.

Norton would be allowed to prohibit drilling during certain times of the year to protect the Porcupine caribou herd. The herd is central to the culture, religion and nutrition of the Gwich'in Nation, who oppose development but were unable to sway Norton after a recent meeting in Alaska.

Under the bill, the state of Alaska would share 50 percent of royalty revenues with the federal government Communities on Alaska's North Slope, including the Inupiat Eskimo village of Kaktovik, could receive additional compensation by sharing in a $10 million impact fund Norton is authorized to create.

Should drilling occur, the land rights of Kaktovik and the mineral rights of Arctic Slope Regional Corp., an Alaska Native corporation chartered under federal law, would be directly affected. Village and corporation leaders support development because they believe it would stimulate economic opportunity.

Even if the bill is approved by the House, it faces considerable opposition in the Senate. Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) said he will filibuster any attempt to open up the refuge.

While Inupiat communities support drilling in ANWR, they oppose off-shore development for fear it will disturb the bowhead whale population. A five-year plan being considered by Norton would open up prime areas of their hunting grounds to drilling.

Get the Bill:
To enhance energy conservation, research and development and to provide for security and diversity in the energy supply for the American people (H.R.4)

Bush on Energy:
Remarks | Executive Order

Relevant Links:
Gwich'in Steering Committee -
Oil Issues in ANWR, US Fish and Wildlife -
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, US Fish and Wildlife Service -
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Pro-Development site -

Only on Indianz.Com:
Inside the Bush energy policy (5/18)

Related Stories:
Interior plan targets Arctic for off-shore drilling (7/24)
House panel approves Arctic drilling (7/18)
Gwich'in Nation blind-sided by Norton visit (6/15)