How many ways can we say no to drilling in the Arctic?

KEYWORDS: Arctic Refuge oil drilling bill Arctic National Wildlife Refuge impact on wildlife cariboo caribou polar bears musk oxen Alaska’s North Slope environmental news migration and reproductive patterns for caribou

SOURCE: Seattle Post-Intelligencer Editorial Board

No matter how many times they get their faces slapped, some Republicans refuse to take no for an answer. Their lust for oil keeps them grabbing at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

It’s time to behave.

The public knows the refuge should remain a place where the environment is protected. There is no good reason to destroy this fragile environment for oil.

The Bush administration suffered an embarrassing defeat last year on the issue, which has been a GOP cause for years. The latest rejection for this lousy idea came last Wednesday in the Senate.

Fortunately, eight Senate Republicans voted their consciences against oil drilling. That helped ensure a 52-48 vote to remove a drilling provision that Republican leaders had inserted in a budget resolution. Five Democrats voted for drilling.

Two of the eight Republicans had hesitated. In the end, Minnesota freshman Sen. Norm Coleman and Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon earned places on the honor roll as drilling opponents.

The oil-saturated Bush administration and many in Congress are pushing for this because there’s a treasure at stake — easy money for oil companies and Alaska’s business interests. The drilling advocates hide behind the talk of “energy independence.”

The administration has tried to dress up the proposal in environmental clothing by promising to use money from drilling fees to support its hydrogen-powered car initiative. Please. That only shows the shallowness of the administration’s much-hyped commitment to hydrogen.

By even the most inflated estimates (from Interior Secretary Gale Norton), the refuge holds less than a year’s worth of oil for America — probably much less. All sorts of efforts — including voluntary ones by the public — could do more to free us from reliance on foreign oil.

As Sen. Olympia Snowe, a Maine Republican, told the GOP leadership in a letter earlier this year, drilling would have profound negative impacts. The fragile arctic environment and its many wildlife species — caribou, polar bears and musk oxen, among them — would be at risk.

A recent report from the National Academy of Sciences showed that drilling elsewhere on Alaska’s North Slope had caused a variety of problems for both wildlife and vegetation. It also warned that some of the great land would be permanently marred by equipment that companies are not likely to remove.

The report had some findings that drilling supporters could seize. Smaller oil spills have caused little permanent damage, and overall wildlife populations haven’t changed drastically.

But experts acknowledge that a large spill could pose a whole new order of problems. And the report found changes in migration and reproductive patterns for caribou. That’s worrisome.

As the National Academy researchers noted, science cannot dictate whether to drill. That’s a decision for society. The latest confirmation of long-standing public opinion on the issue came in a Gallup poll earlier this month, with 55 percent of survey participants rejecting the idea of opening the refuge for oil exploration. The public view is clear: A pristine wildlife reserve should be protected.

Before Wednesday’s vote, some drilling advocates wondered if the refuge is not opened to exploration in the middle of the Iraqi crisis, when will it ever be?

Exactly. There’s no good time for a bad idea.

The administration should respect the public and take no for an answer.


This article originally appeard on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer Editorial Board.

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