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“Addiction to oil” endangers Alaskan Wildlife Refuge

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In President Bush's State of the Union Address in January, he said that the U.S. is "addicted to oil" and therefore needs to reduce dependence on Middle Eastern oil by 75 percent in the next twenty years.

To achieve this goal of reduced reliance, the Bush Administration's 2007 budget proposal seeks to fund the drilling of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, though it was previously rejected by Congress.

In his second week in office, President Bush established the National Energy Policy Development Group showing that energy issues were of extreme concern in his administration's policy. This group, headed by Vice President Cheney, developed a national energy policy.

In August of 2005 the Energy Policy Act was signed into law by President Bush. This energy bill encourages investments in fuel efficiency, renewable energy sources, clean coal technology and nuclear plants. The bill did not open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas leasing.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is home to forty-five species of land and marine mammals, thirty-six species of fish and one-hundred-eighty species of birds, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife's Web site also states that a main reason for the establishment of the Arctic Refuge is that it "encompasses an unbroken continuum of arctic and subarctic ecosystems."Energy issues have long been a serious concern of the U.S. government. The U.S.'s dependence on imported oil increased in the early 1970s when American domestic oil production began its decline. President Nixon hoped to achieve a state of self-sufficiency wherein domestic resources would satisfy the nation's energy needs without necessitating foreign energy imports. "Project Independence," as the ten-year plan was called, was never achieved.

President Nixon's successor, President Ford, inherited the energy issue and signed the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, which allowed for the establishment of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980 established the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge at the northern end of Alaska on the Beaufort Sea; President Carter and Congress set aside 1.5 million acres of that area's coastal plain for possible exploration and development that same year. They did this because of the area's potential oil and gas resources as reported to Congress in 1987 by the Department of the Interior (DOI).

Supporters of the drilling in the Arctic Refuge say that the area is not as inhabited as their opponents lead the public to believe.

In his 2003 testimony before the House Committee on Resources on the Arctic Coastal Plain Domestic Energy Security Act of 2003, Gale Norton, Secretary of the Interior, said that an "image of flat nothingness is what you would see the majority of the year." He concluded that because of this the drilling in the Arctic Refuge would not present an environmental problem.

Some senators support drilling in the Arctic Refuge because they believe it would reduce our dependence on foreign oil by offering an alternative source of energy to that of the Middle East. "Achieving energy independence is one of the greatest challenges of our generation," said Sen. Evan Bayh, "one that will impact everything

from our national security to our economy."

Groups such as the National Resources Defense Council have reached out to the public for support in opposing the drilling in Alaska. BioGems, a sub-group of the NRDC has used celebrities like Robert Redford to attract the needed support for the preservation of the Arctic Refuge. This group communicates with its supporters via e-mail messages that inform recipients of current issues involving the refuge.

Members of the BioGem group, and of other similar groups have been successful in deterring legislation that would allow for the Arctic Refuge drilling to take place.

In November 2005 the House removed ANWR provisions from the 2006 Fiscal Year Budget. In December, when Sen. Stevens (R-AK) added language that allowed for the drilling to a 'must-pass' bill that would give funding to the military and Hurricane Katrina victims, the bill was passed, but only after Sen. Steven's additions had been removed.

Opponents of drilling in Alaska believe that opening the Arctic Refuge will effect the broader national debate over whether or not energy, timber, mining and other industries should be allowed into preserved areas across the country. NRDC members do not believe

the Bush Administration's argument about establishing energy independence; rather, the Arctic Refuge is about "transferring our public estate into corporate hands so it can be liquidated for a quick buck," according to the NRDC.

While the Bush Administration has stated that the refuge holds a mean expected value of 10.4 billion barrels of oil and alone is capable of producing the amount of oil in one day that an entire state can produce in one day, opposers to the drilling disagree. Instead, they say that very little would be gained and the amount of oil that is likely to be profitable represents less than a year's U.S. supply.

Opponents also rebuff the drilling because it would not produce immediate results; it would take ten years to get the oil to the market. The supporters of the drilling have acknowledged this fact, however, they believe that this does not mean that the drilling shouldn't take place. "If we had begun exploration and development when the Congress first proposed it, Coastal Plain oil would be in the TAPS pipeline today," said Norton.

Not all opponents of the Arctic Refuge drilling contest it because of hoping to preserve the refuge. NRDC member and Oakland native James Grandt says he is "not against ANWR drilling in principle."

"I'm just against drilling currently, when high oil prices are based only on speculation and fear of mongering, not on any real supply shortage and I'm also distrustful of any drilling legislation put forward by a government that's so heavily influenced by the oil industry," said Grandt.

To account for the energy problem, the NRDC proposes reliance on "American ingenuity." They also believe the reliance on foreign energy can be reduced through investing in cleaner, renewable forms of power and energy. This includes the production of more efficient vehicles like hybrids.

Automobile manufacturer General Motors is keeping up to speed with the nation's energy concerns. Their new motto "live green, go yellow," reflects their implementation of creating vehicles that run off of E85, an alternative fuel to gasoline produced from corn. They have already manufactured more than 1.5 million GM Flex Fuel vehicles that are capable of running on E85.

The government is making an effort to increase the research and use of alternative fuels. The $14.5 billion energy bill passed last summer by Congress will speed up alternative research in private and public sectors. However, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said that she has been reassured by President Bush that his administration will continue to "push for drilling in 2006."