2002 Scorecard Vote
Protection of the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is among the highest priorities for the national environmental community. The complete range of arctic and sub-arctic landscapes protected in the refuge are unique: from America's northernmost forest, to the peaks and glaciers of the Brooks Range, to the rolling tundra, lagoons and barrier islands of the coastal plain. 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 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 is often called the "biological heart" of the refuge. It is also the last 5 percent of Alaska's vast North Slope that is still legislatively protected from exploration or development.
Multinational oil corporations that covet the coastal plain argue that drilling 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 reduce U.S. dependence on imports. By contrast, modest improvements in vehicle fuel efficiency would save far more oil than the refuge could ever yield.
The potential fate of the Delaware-sized coastal plain shaped much of the debate over the Senate energy bill (S. 517). In April 2002, Senators Frank Murkowski (R-AK) and Ted Stevens (R-AK) introduced an amendment that would have allowed President Bush to open the Arctic Refuge to oil development. The amendment's sponsors claimed it would limit the scope and impact of oil drilling. In reality, the amendment (like a similar provision adopted in the House in 2001) would have allowed roads, pipelines and other industrial facilities to be scattered across the entire coastal plain and permitted year-round oil development.
The introduction of the Murkowski-Stevens amendment prompted an immediate filibuster led by Senators Joe Lieberman (D-CT) and John Kerry (D-MA). Stevens and Murkowski moved to end the filibuster by filing a cloture petition, a procedure to end debate. On April 18, 2002, the petition failed by a 46-54 vote (Senate roll call vote 71). NO is the pro-environment vote. The Murkowski-Stevens amendment was later removed from consideration. The House energy bill included a provision to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (see the 2001 National Environmental Scorecard). At press time the House and Senate conference on the energy package had not produced a final bill.
LCV considers the issue of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to be of such significance that we have scored this vote twice.