2003 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. And because 95 percent of Alaska's North Slope is already available to oil exploration or development, the coastal plain is also the last protected stretch of Alaska's Arctic coast.
The multinational oil corporations that covet the coastal plain 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 less oil than the U.S. consumes in 6 months and would take at least 10 years to bring to market. Even then, economists argue, refuge oil would do little 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 would ever yield.
Nevertheless, the Bush administration made drilling in the Arctic refuge a cornerstone of its national energy strategy. Early in 2003, drilling advocates successfully included a provision counting revenues from drilling in the refuge in the 2004 budget resolution. If this revenue assumption had remained in the resolution (S Con Res 23), it would have eased the path for opening the refuge to drilling.
On March 19, 2003, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) offered an amendment to strike this provision from the budget resolution. On March 19, 2003, the Senate approved the Boxer amendment by a 52-48 vote (Senate roll call vote 59). YES is the pro-environment vote. The House subsequently passed an energy bill (H.R. 6) that included a provision to open the Arctic refuge to drilling (House votes 3 and 4). However, the Senate version of the bill did not include drilling language, nor did the House-Senate energy conference report (Senate vote 1).