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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

ANWR Oil Drilling: Get It out in the Open

Air Date: Week of

Commentator Nancy Lord states her preference that oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge be discussed in an open, forthright manner, and not pursued behind closed doors in Congressional budget negotiations. Ms. Lord lives in Homer, Alaska.


CURWOOD: The dangers of oil are behind much of the controversy over the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. An overwhelming number of US citizens oppose opening it up to oil drilling. But in Alaska itself, where oil literally means cash in the pocket to residents, there is overwhelming support for drilling. Commentator Nancy Lord has been thinking about the meaning of the controversy over ANWR: for the wildlife, for the democratic process, and for the use of language itself.

LORD: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. What do these four words mean? Arctic. Okay, far away in the oft frozen north. National. It belongs to all of us, all Americans, whether we ever go there or not. Wildlife. It's been set aside for these values, for the caribou, musk ox, polar bear, all the nesting birds and other creatures that live there. Refuge. Refuge, a haven or sanctuary. Got it? Okay, now one more question: shall the coastal portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge be open to oil drilling? This is a decision for Congress and the President to make, based on their best judgment, all the facts, all of what they hear from their constituents, and those special interests that pay their campaign expenses.

The last time Congress came near to opening the Arctic Refuge to oil drilling was in 1989, just before the Exxon Valdez dumped 11 million gallons of crude into pristine marine waters. Today, the 3 members of Alaska's Congressional delegation sit in Washington power positions. They merely slip an opening provision into the budget reconciliation package: no more environmental review, no public debate, just do it. President Clinton just vetoes it. But don't worry, the men with the giant can opener will be back. They will cut that lid off, yet. There's too much money inside. It doesn't matter that whatever oil may idle there won't go away, will surely be worth much more in the future when, perhaps, we'll have learned how to use it sparingly and without making a mess. The future doesn't concern those who would like to make their fortunes today.

Those people will have you believe that oil production in the refuge will leave only the tiniest inconsequential mark. That the caribou that calve along the coast will be grateful to rub their backs against the pipelines. That the native people need oil jobs, or they'll be left to starve in this impoverished place. That the nation needs this oil. You might even believe some of this nonsense, because a major policy decision attached as a rider to a spending bill does not allow true information to be presented. Changing a protected habitat area to an industrial zone is a change that Americans deserve to think hard about and consider with some understanding of what's to be gained and lost. Next time oil interests advocate drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or any other protected place, let us insist they come out of their back room hiding and present us with a single piece of legislation that can be scrutinized on its merits, to pass or fail according to the honest choices of Americans.

CURWOOD: Nancy Lord is a writer and fisherwoman in Homer, Alaska. She comes to us from member station KBBI.



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