2001 Scorecard Vote
The protection of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is among the highest priorities for the national environmental community. Nowhere else on our continent is the complete range of arctic and sub-arctic landscapes protected in one unbroken chain: from America's northernmost forest, to the highest peaks and glaciers of the Brooks Range, to the rolling tundra, lagoons, and barrier islands of the coastal plain. And no other conservation area in the circumpolar north has such abundant and diverse wildlife, including rare musk oxen, polar bears, grizzlies, wolves, and millions of migratory birds. The refuge is also the annual gathering point for more than 120,000 caribou--animals that are central to the culture and sustenance of the Gwich'in Athabaskan people of northeast Alaska and northwest Canada.
The 1.5 million acre coastal plain of the refuge is often referred to as the "biological heart" of the refuge. Because 95 percent of Alaska's North Slope is already open to oil exploration or development, the coastal plain is also the last protected stretch of Alaska's Arctic coast.
Unfortunately, multinational oil corporations also covet the coastal plain for petroleum exploration and development. Drilling advocates argue that developing the refuge will help lower gasoline prices and reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil. However, a 1998 study by the U.S. Geological Survey projects that the coastal plain would yield 3.2 billion barrels of commercially recoverable oil--less than what the U.S. consumes in six months--that would take at least 10 years to bring to market. Even then, economists argue, refuge oil would do nothing to lower energy costs for consumers or to reduce U.S. dependence on imports. By contrast, modest improvements in vehicle fuel efficiency would save far more oil than the refuge would ever yield.
Nevertheless, the Bush administration made drilling in the Arctic refuge a cornerstone of its national energy strategy and urged Congress to mandate that change through law. The Teamsters union joined the administration in pushing for oil and gas development in the refuge, arguing that it would create more than 750,000 jobs--an argument that has since been widely discredited by leading economists.
The House included a measure opening the Arctic refuge to oil and gas development in its energy bill (H.R. 4). Among the most contentious issues in the House debate over this provision was the potential size of the drilling area. Development advocates maintained that drilling operations would require no more than 2,000 acres total--less than a typical airport. However, the U.S. Geological Survey has projected that commercially recoverable oil would be scattered in dozens of small pockets across the refuge. As a result, drilling activities would be spread out over hundreds of square miles, criss-crossing most of the 1.5 million-acre coastal plain. Moreover, even if drilling operations were technically confined to 2,000 acres, the effects of exploration and development would be much broader. Seismic exploration would scar much of the area's tundra. Nitrogen oxide and other pollutants would contaminate the air. Millions of gallons of fresh water for ice road construction would be drained from the coastal plain's few lakes and streams. Mines would gouge millions of cubic feet of gravel from riverbanks and coastal areas. Taken together, these activities would have a devastating impact on the biological heart of the Arctic refuge.
Nevertheless, during floor debate on H.R. 4, Representatives John Sununu (R-NH) and Heather Wilson (R-NM) sponsored an amendment that purported to limit the environmental damage from oil development on the coastal plain. Their 2,000-acre "limitation" was designed to mislead both the public and other lawmakers. Not only would it allow the 2,000 acres to be scattered across the coastal plain, it would exempt gravel mines, permanent roads, and even pipelines from the "limitation." Because the nature of drilling activities in the Arctic Refuge would be no different with or without the Sununu-Wilson amendment, environmentalists strongly opposed this deceptive amendment. On August 1, 2001, the House approved the amendment by a 228-201 vote (House roll call vote 316). NO is the pro-environment vote.
Immediately afterward, Representatives Ed Markey (D-MA) and Nancy Johnson (R-CT) offered an amendment to strike the drilling provision from the House energy bill and maintain the current prohibition on oil development in the Arctic refuge. On August 1, 2001, the House rejected the Markey-Johnson amendment by a 206-223 vote (House roll call vote 317). YES is the pro-environment vote. At press time, the Senate had not yet begun debate on energy legislation.