The ANWR Debate
Read all of Outside's coverage of the ANWR debate here.
Ask yourself: What if a Republican named Theodore Roosevelt hadn't helped write conservation into our national character? What if our march to progress and modernity had meant the step-by-step stripping, mining, and development of every inch of territory from coast to coast?
That's a big question. We're still wrestling with it as a nation, and ground zero is Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Like many incomparable treasures of the West, ANWR sounds desolate, uninhabited. But it's not. It's the last 5 percent of Alaska's North Slope that's closed to drilling, and nothing like it exists anywhere else in the world. Peregrine falcons thrive there, and thousands of Porcupine caribou roam the refuge, along with gray wolves and black, brown, and polar bears. Yet some in Washington are ready to sell it to the highest bidder.
We need to stop them, and we need more Teddy Roosevelt in our hearts, our vision, and our guts.
The environmental risks of drilling in ANWR are devastating. Oil companies operating the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and the Prudhoe Bay fields spill oil or other chemicals more than once a day and release more than twice as much nitrogen-oxide pollution as Washington, D.C., does. Protecting the refuge is a test of whether this country has a conservation ethic, and there's no room for error. When pristine wilderness is lost, it's lost forever.
George Bush and his allies plan to make ANWR drilling a top priority this year, and I plan to be on the front lines of the battle. They fought us on this in 2001 and 2002, and we stopped them by forcing the debate to the floor of the Senate, where we filibustered, making it clear we'd rather shut down the Senate than surrender. This spring, the Republicans will use the federal budget to railroad drilling through Congress. We need to hold the line, and we need to demand that thoughtful Republicans never permit their conservative leadership to hijack bipartisan bills.
How do we do that when it appears that Senate Republicans may have the votes to win? Public involvement. The only thing that can stop special interests from selling off our lands is a tide of citizen protest. By my count, we need only four more votes in the Senate to save the refuge this year, and many of the legislators expected to vote for drilling will be up for reelection next year. We have to make ANWR an issue that can come back to haunt them, and we can only do that from the grassroots. Write your representatives in D.C. Write your newspaper. Use the Internet to get organized. Start with my Web site, www.kerry.senate.gov, which will be a cyber war room for protecting ANWR.
This fight is as critical as it is symbolic. Roads, pipelines, and other developments would irreversibly damage this national treasure. President Bush and pro-drilling forces cite special-interest junk science to argue that they can limit the damage by drilling in only 2,000 acres. But oil is scattered throughout the refuge, so drilling in 2,000 acres could mean 40 separate 50-acre footprints. Even they know the line they're selling is bunk.
We can counter this by telling the truth about our energy future. We import 2.5 million barrels of oil from the politically toxic Middle East every day, and our consumption of foreign oil has risen to 55 percent. I don't want fragile and often unfriendly regimes to hold America's energy security in their hands, but we need to remind a country weary of conflict in the Middle East that drilling in the Arctic won't make a dent in our oil dependence. The U.S. Geological Survey has concluded that there are only 3.2 billion barrels of economically recoverable oil in ANWR. That amounts to just a six-month supply for the U.S. Irreversibly damaging a truly wild place is an unacceptable price to pay for such a small payoff.
We can't drill our way to energy independence. We have to invent our way there, by harnessing the entrepreneurial spirit that made our country great. We can conserve energy and make our cars run farther on a gallon of gas. We can increase our investment in clean-energy products and create hundreds of thousands of jobs along the way. What we can't do is buy into the myth that America's energy future lies under the snow of ANWR.