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Bush pushes to open up Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
by Bill Straub
Scripps Howard News Service


March 10, 2005

With crude oil prices exceeding $55 a barrel, President Bush on Wednesday pressed Congress to adopt a national energy policy that includes opening Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling.

Speaking in Columbus, Ohio, where he toured the Battelle Memorial Institute, Bush said the United States must open up "new areas to environmentally responsible exploration" to meet domestic energy needs. Topping the target list is ANWR, which the Interior Department estimates could provide 10 billion barrels of oil.

"You see, developing a small section of ANWR would not only create thousands of new jobs, but it would eventually reduce our dependence on foreign oil by up to a million barrels of oil a day - and that's important," Bush said. "Congress needs to look at the science and look at the facts and send me a bill that includes exploration in ANWR for the sake of our country."

Bush has sought congressional approval of an energy policy since the earliest days of his administration in 2001. Assigned by the president to develop a plan, Vice President Dick Cheney stepped forward with a lengthy proposal that included ANWR exploration. But that initiative was derailed amid claims that Cheney developed the package in conjunction with business interests without eliciting input from environmentalists.

"The Bush-Cheney energy plan is not the solution to rising energy costs or the answer to our dangerous dependence on foreign oil," said Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the unsuccessful Democratic presidential candidate. "Instead, their energy policy is the place where cozy business connections, secret trade deals and industry campaign contributions come together to keep us dependent on foreign oil and keep consumers paying through the nose at the pump."

The president has been unable to generate the votes necessary in the Senate. But with Republicans making gains in the 2004 election - and the prospect of escalating prices at the pump - he is preparing to make another run at it. Senate Republicans are looking to insert the proposal into the budget bill, a maneuver that would bar Democrats from staging a filibuster.

The area in question, Bush said, involves 2,000 acres - about the size of the Columbus airport.

"By applying the most innovative environmental practices, we can carry out the project with almost no impact on land or local wildlife," he said.

Still, the fight to develop ANWR faces stiff opposition. Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, said drilling in the region would ruin one of America's last unspoiled wild places for only a few months' worth of oil.

"Drilling there would not put a dent in our dependence on foreign oil, would do nothing to strengthen our national security and would not save consumers a dime at the pump," Pope said. "But the harm to wildlife and this spectacular wilderness would be permanent and irreparable."

If drilling is approved, Pope said, it will have no impact on current gasoline prices because the oil found in the slope will not be available for a decade.

But Bush said it's possible to enhance the economy while simultaneously improving the environment.

"Too many people in Washington and around our country seem to think we have to pick between energy production and environmental protection, between environmental protection and growing our economy," he said. "I think that's a false choice."


Reach Bill Straub at straubb(at)

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