Will Arctic tie up the lines and stall important legislation and energy initiatives again this year? Hopefully, Congress has learned its lesson…

by on January 23rd, 2006

Last year was not a good year for the Republican party or the Bush administration. Waist deep in scandals and rumors, both bodies remained on the constant defensive throughout the latter half of 2005, as Republican members of Congress were indicted, resigned amid criminal prosecution and fought off nefarious allegations. The latest headliner is lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s confession to wooing members of Congress, mostly of the right wing persuasion, with money and lavish trips, at the expense of Native American funds.

One of the biggest problems affecting the American people in 2005, regardless of income, was soaring prices at the pump. However, instead of Congress putting new, productive energy legislation at the top of their agenda, the energy bill that passed late last summer was a pork fest of tax breaks and incentives to oil and gas companies that are already experiencing record profits. In fact, on January 30th, ExxonMobil reported an annual profit of $36.13 billion for 2005–

the highest ever for a corporation. Increased fuel efficiency standards and incentives for U.S. automakers for the mass marketing of hybrids were conspicuously missing from the line-up, but didn’t face much public outcry—that is, until Hurricane Katrina blew in and devastated oil refineries in the southeast region and our country witnessed the raising of gasoline to over $3.00 per gallon overnight.

The one band-aid solution offered by a handful of reactionary Congressional members was to open the 1.5 million acres of the coastline of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The area in the Arctic Refuge that is pinpointed for drilling is a fragile strip of coast that provides the central calving grounds to the Porcupine Caribou herd, nearly half of the entire North Slope’s land based denning grounds for polar bears, one of the only existing populations of muskoxen and nesting sites for over 150 species of migratory birds.

Even though the drilling infrastructure would take several years to build and millions of dollars to maintain and oil would not flow from the Refuge for almost decade, Senator Pete Domenici (R-New Mexico) did not hesitate to tout ANWR drilling as a remedy to our current energy crisis. This claim was endorsed by other Congress Members as well in spite of a report released in March 2004 by the government’s own Energy Department that predicted if ANWR was open in 2005, it would only make a difference of a penny per gallon in the estimated year of peak production—2025. In fact, not only was this information repressed in Congress, but ANWR drilling became a runaway hit with these few select members, who obsessed so about its opening that vital bills were held hostage as a result.

Arctic drilling, which has for long been a contentious issue among lawmakers, was tacked onto a filibuster-immune budget resolution last spring. Arctic drilling has been passed in the House several times only to meet its demise in the Senate by the threat of this talk-a-thon. It takes a super-majority vote of 60 to defeat a filibuster, something Arctic drilling proponents have never been able to garner. In the case of the Budget Reconciliation bill, though it passed in the Senate with Arctic drilling intact, it was gridlocked in the House when a band of moderate Republicans refuted it. The provisions to drill the Refuge were subsequently shelved.

However, very soon after Arctic drilling reared its head again. On December 18th, Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, of Bridges-to-Nowhere fame, used his clout as former Appropriations committee chair and attached it as a rider onto the conference report of the Defense Appropriations bill in the middle of the night during a rare weekend session. The must-pass bill funds our troops, but that did not stop war veteran Stevens from catering to his Big Oil interests and raising eyebrows and voices as he broke sacred Senate rules to do so.

Defense bills, according to Senate rules, should not contain any extraneous provisions. To violate this rule, known as Rule 28, would set a precedent that would allow other Senators to put pet interests into other bills where they have no place any time they desired. Stevens’ solution to this was to write the provision as such that in only this instant could Rule 28 be violated. He even threatened to hold the Senate hostage until Christmas if necessary, if this bill failed to pass without his ANWR holiday present. The threats and maneuvers did not work and a filibuster prevailed. A clean Defense bill sans Arctic drilling passed.

Arctic drilling has been inserted into bills of all contents and themes. It has passed the House to die in Senate and vice versa. It has passed both Houses to be vetoed by a President. It has held up energy bills, budget bills, Katrina aid and troop funding. Most importantly, it has compromised the time and energy of our Representatives, who should instead be looking to combat global warming and curb our pervasive and detrimental dependence on oil. To strive to open up the Arctic Refuge is merely to strive to open up another medium for our country’s addiction. The United States only possesses three percent of the world’s known oil reserves (this includes ANWR and all untapped resources), whereas the Middle East possesses nearly 65 percent, and yet our country consumes a quarter of the world’s oil while only consisting of five percent of the world population. No amount of drilling will bridge that gap. We will always be dependent on foreign oil as long as oil is what we are dependent on for a majority of our energy demands. In the meantime, we are merely contributing to an environmental distress of unprecedented proportions on a larger scale than the rest of the world, while remaining absent from worldwide solutions.

Let 2006 be the year that Congress and the Bush administration finally vow to work on clean energy and conservation. The American public is growing tired of the games. We need a healthy environment and affordable energy. It is about time the government delivered this to us without further hesitation.

See links for more info: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/12/21/AR2005122101252.html

or http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/12/19/AR2005121901753.html

Laura Kiesel