I'm hoping Christie Todd Whitman's recently expressed ambivalence about drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a false alarm. Now is not the time for fecklessness from the Bush administration on energy policy.
It is important that Bush stick with his campaign pledge to increase domestic oil production generally and tap into ANWR specifically. There are no new facts that would justify an about face by Bush on these issues. The only thing that has changed is that Bush has taken some courageous stands on environmental issues and thereby aroused the public ire of environmentalists.
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But he will have their eternal ire no matter what he does short of complete capitulation and homage to the earth goddess Gaia. If he backs away from his commitment to a responsible energy policy now he will also earn the displeasure of his conservative base, which is counting on him to govern on principle and not cave to the formidable political pressure of the green groups.
Democratic Sens. Lieberman and Kerry, sensing that Bush is vulnerable on environmental issues, have each been attacking Bush in their dueling effort to pander to their extremist constituencies with a view toward a 2004 presidential run.
Lieberman told "Face the Nation" that he might subpoena documents that the EPA used to justify its recent rescission of certain Clinton administration initiatives. Kerry slammed Bush for cutbacks on energy conservation and alternative fuel programs.
These senators are not the only ones piling on the administration. The eco-extremists have all but painted Bush as a mad scientist deliberately poisoning our water with arsenic. The ceaseless barrage is apparently having an impact. Interior Secretary Gail Norton defensively denied that the Bush administration was hostile toward the environment and lamented that the Bush team had failed "to get our message across."
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With all due respect, Secretary Norton, this has nothing to do with the administration's communication skills. I repeat, you will not pacify the extremists, no matter how polished your tongue. As one activist from the National Wildlife Federation promised, "We're going to continue to put pressure on the administration ... every step of the way from here on."
President Bush has done an admirable job so far of governing on principle and ignoring the polls. If he continues to allow his Cabinet members to vacillate, however, he'll appear to be holding his finger in the wind. Perhaps it's time for another trip to the woodshed for Secretary Whitman.
Sometimes it's tough to govern as a conservative because environmental groups are adept at propaganda and distorting facts. In this area, as in others, the facts and actual science must control, not emotions and junk science. Let's take a look at some of the facts:
- ANWR contains 17.5 million acres, and Bush only plans to explore for oil on 1.5 million of them, which is around 8 percent. More importantly, if oil is discovered, less than 2,000 of those acres would be affected.
- It is estimated that the exploration would create between 250,000 and 735,000 new jobs. Similar projects have added tens of billions of dollars to the nation's economy in the past. The federal government itself would reap an estimated windfall of billions of dollars from companies bidding for the right to drill.
- Scientists estimate that there are between 6 and 18 billion barrels of recoverable oil, which would measurably decrease United States dependence on foreign oil. At present, we import more than 55 percent of our petroleum.
- Contrary to environmental hysteria, oil and gas production in the region would not pose a significant threat to wildlife in the region. Modern technology has led to drilling and production techniques that involve limited impact. In other areas of similar production, such as Prudhoe Bay, the caribou population has grown dramatically (sevenfold) despite the apocalyptic predictions of the doomsayers.
- More than 75 percent of Alaskans support exploration and production in ANWR.
- National Review magazine has brilliantly exposed the flip-flop of the major media on the issue, demonstrating that both the New York Times and Washington Post editorialized in favor of ANWR exploration not too many years ago and downplayed the environmental risks attached.
I know these facts are inconvenient for single-issue environmentalists, but President Bush has to consider them and weigh other concerns, such as our energy needs and the economic ramifications involved. May the facts and not political pressure guide his decision.