March 14, 2002 | Commentary on Energy and Environment
Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle doesn't think so. He
opposes the idea of opening ANWR to drilling. But he knows that he
doesn't have the votes to prevent exploration of what many experts
believe is a vast reserve of high-grade crude, so he's constructed
a vast array of parliamentary roadblocks -- all designed to make it
virtually impossible for the full Senate to consider a measure that
would allow drilling in ANWR.
Sen. Daschle certainly isn't the first person to exploit the
Senate's Byzantine rules of procedure to keep the majority from
expressing its will. But if he doesn't have a credible alternative
to offer on President Bush's initiative to explore for oil in ANWR,
he should allow a vote. Surveys show that more than 78 percent of
the public would like to see more oil produced domestically, and
more than 60 percent, including a large majority of Alaskans, favor
exploration of ANWR.
Americans favor ANWR exploration because they don't like being
beholden to foreign interests. Yet that's exactly the case when it
comes to oil, and the situation has grown worse over the last three
decades: We bought 35 percent of our oil abroad when the Arab
embargo of 1973 set in. Today, we import 53 percent.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts this figure
will increase to 62 percent by 2020 if domestic supplies don't
increase. With the United States expecting significant population
gains over the next two decades, it's irresponsible to take a pass
on what the EIA calls "the largest unexplored, potentially
productive onshore basin in the United States."
Absent some action, the energy problem will only worsen. We
produced 40 percent less oil in the United States last year than we
did in 1970 because of environmental concerns about drilling,
refinement and exploration. Yet domestic energy use rose 17 percent
through the 1990s, and we now import 10 million barrels per
All President Bush has asked is that oil exploration take place
on 2,000 acres within ANWR - itself 19.5 million acres in size.
That's a tract about the size of a big-city airport in an area the
size of South Carolina with a population of fewer than 2,000.
He's not asking that oil companies be allowed to foul the land.
Most Alaskans realize this, which is why one recent poll shows that
78 percent of them approve of the president's plan. They've watched
the huge north slope oil field at Prudhoe Bay in production for 27
years now, and they've seen the environment thrive. They've seen
the Porcupine Caribou herds -- which many environmentalists
predicted would be wiped out once the oil companies arrived --
increase fivefold in number in those 27 years. Alaskan pollster
David Dittman has suggested that more oil seeps out of cars each
day in the average Wal-Mart parking lot than has been spilled in
Alaska in more than a quarter-century.
Sen. Daschle doesn't have to like these facts. He doesn't have
to become a cheerleader for ANWR. But he should recognize that we
need this oil to reduce our dependence on imports, that we can
collect it safely with little damage to the environment, and that a
majority of Americans would like to give ANWR a chance.
The Senator needs either to put forth a miracle solution -- one that preserves our American way of life but sharply curtails our dependence on foreign oil -- or he needs to let the Senate vote on ANWR.
Charli Coon is a senior policy analyst for energy and the environment at The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based public policy research institute.
Distributed nationally on the Scripps Howard wire