by Richard Mauer
February 04, 2005
Amid the chants of some 100 opponents of drilling at a rally in a park near the Capitol, Lieberman, D-Conn., and Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said they were reintroducing a bill to permanently protect the 1.5 million-acre region as the Udall-Eisenhower Arctic Wilderness.
That bill went nowhere last year, but neither did efforts led by Alaska's delegation to open the plain for oil development. Lieberman said 24 senators co-sponsored his bill, including one Republican, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island. Markey said Rep. Nancy Johnson, a Connecticut Republican, is one of the co-sponsors in the House.
State polls show Alaskans overwhelmingly favor giving oil companies access to the refuge, which is estimated by the government to contain billions of barrels of recoverable oil. But the huge refuge, with its rich wildlife, has also become a powerful symbol for vanishing wilderness.
Three of the speakers at the afternoon rally, Lieberman, Markey and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., used moral and religious references in explaining their motivations for protecting the area.
Boxer quoted an ancient rabbinical midrash in which God tells the first man, " 'Be careful not to ruin and destroy my world, for if you do ruin it, there is no one to repair it after you.' That was written 1,500 years ago, and it applies here," she said.
ANWR development has passed the House in recent years and a measure is expected to emerge there in the coming weeks. But the Senate, where a single senator can filibuster a bill to death unless 60 others vote to end debate, has proven more difficult. Supporters of drilling have sometimes been able to use a budget bill to carry ANWR because budget resolutions can't be filibustered, but even that's no guarantee. Boxer amended ANWR out of the budget in 2003, she said.
"We've got to gear up for another battle and that's why we're here today, to send a very loud and fierce signal, that we're coming back and we're not going let this to happen," Boxer said.
Lieberman acknowledged that the nation's dependence on foreign oil "is an urgent and stubborn problem."
"But the answer is not in the Alaskan wilderness, it's in our heads," he said. "We have to apply the genius of America to engineer a solution to energy independence, not naively contend that we can find one in the ground in Alaska."
Carol Browner, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under President Clinton and now board chair of the National Audubon Society, said ANWR should be subjected to a "clean vote" in Congress. Using the budget, she said, is to "sneak it in."
"I am sure that with an up or down vote, we will as a country decide to protect this place," she said.
But in an interview afterward, she acknowledged that it would take a filibuster, and not a floor vote, to kill ANWR.
The Udall-Eisenhower Wilderness would take its name from President Eisenhower, who first established the refuge as a wildlife range in 1960. Rep. Mo Udall led the effort in 1980 to double the size of the refuge.