Bush's Energy Policy Supports Drilling in Arctic Wilderness

By Cat Lazaroff

SAGINAW, Michigan, September 29, 2000 (ENS) - Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush today proposed a comprehensive energy policy designed to decrease America’s dependence on foreign oil and stabilize its own energy markets.

The proposal was lambasted by environmental groups for its emphasis on oil drilling in pristine areas like Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.


George W. Bush on the campaign trail (Photo courtesy George W. Bush for President)
Speaking at the Wright-K Technology manufacturing and engineering plant in Saginaw, Texas Governor Bush outlined a policy focusing on lowering energy costs, particularly for low income families, and increasing the nation’s energy security.

His proposal also targets improved air quality and encourages the development of renewable and alternative fuels. Recognizing that alternative sources supply less than four percent of U.S. energy needs, Bush said he would will promote access to foreign oil and the development of U.S. oil, coal and natural gas resources.

"America must have an energy policy that plans for the future, but meets the needs of today. I believe that we can develop our natural resources and protect our environment. We are paying a steep price for seven and a half years without an energy policy," said Bush.


The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge supports a vast herd of caribou (Photo courtesy Arctic National Wildlife Refuge)
In his most controversial statements, Bush said he would open eight percent of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge - about 1.5 million acres - to "environmentally responsible exploration," which he said could produce about l0 billion barrels of oil.

Bush would also explore opening natural gas reserves on federal lands to "environmentally responsible and regulated exploration," he said.

Bush criticized his Democratic rival, Vice President Al Gore, for his arguments that fossil fuel exploration and environmental protection are mutually exclusive. "This is a false choice," said Bush. "We can do both - taking out energy, and leaving only footprints."

Gore, speaking at a National Audubon Society preserve in Maryland, said Bush’s plan misses the point - that fossil fuel exploration is not the only choice to provide energy security.


Al Gore campaigning in Texas (Photo courtesy Gore 2000)
"We don't have to degrade our environment in order to secure our energy future," said Gore. "If we do things right - if we make responsible choices - if we invest in the job creating, environment protecting technology of the future - then we can have a cleaner air, more reliable energy, and a more prosperous economy all at the same time."

"The other side now proposes to misuse high oil prices as an excuse to let oil companies invade precious natural treasures like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge," Gore warned. "If you entrust me with the presidency, I will not let that happen."

Bush did lay out plans for increasing renewable energy use in the U.S., but tied them to Arctic drilling. Bush would earmark an estimated $1.2 billion of bid bonuses from opening up the Arctic refuge for funding research into alternative energy resources. He would create a "Royalties Conservation Fund" by setting aside what could potentially be billions in Arctic exploration royalties to fund conservation efforts.

He would also support tax credits for electricity produced from renewable and alternative fuels in the amount of $1.4 billion over ten years, Bush said.

Some of Bush’s proposals for non-fossil fuel energy sources are themselves controversial. The governor said he would invest $1 billion over ten years to establish clear rules to help utilities buy nuclear power plants, an energy source that comes with its own problems, including mounting stores of dangerous radioactive wastes.

ice harbor

Bush would oppose breaching four dams, including Ice Harbor Dam, on the Lower Snake River, a move many biologists say is essential to the survival of endangered salmon (Photo courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)
To boost the hydropower industry, Bush said he would streamline the re-licensing process for hydroelectric projects, a move many environmentalists oppose because they say it allows outdated dams to keep operating long after they are no longer efficient or safe. Bush would also oppose dam breaching, even in cases where hydropower dams threaten the survival of fish and other species.

Bush would invest $2 billion over 10 years to fund research into "clean coal" technologies, a term many environmentalists consider an oxymoron.

Bush won praise for his proposals to reduce pollution, including requiring a comprehensive pipeline approval process to reduce the risk of oil spills and natural gas explosions. The governor also said he would propose legislation requiring electric utilities to reduce harmful emissions.

Fred Krupp, executive director of the New York based advocacy organization Environmental Defense, praised Bush's plan to use market incentives such as emissions trading to cut pollution quickly and affordably. Pollutants from power plants - carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury - contribute to urban smog, acid rain, and climate change, which damage human health and ecosystems.

"We need to reduce pollution now to ensure a safe future for our children," said Krupp. "A market based strategy that rewards actual emissions reductions will cut pollution, keep down energy costs and help the US meet its targets under the Kyoto Treaty. Such a program could spur just the sort of environmental and technological revolution we need to break our dependence on fuels that are too expensive and too dirty."

But it is Bush’s repeated promises to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that has prompted the greatest number of comments - most of them negative.

The Wilderness Society released a statement today that argues, "drilling in the Arctic Refuge would not only be environmentally destructive, it would do very little, if anything to affect our energy prices or security."

Environmental Defense’s Krupp criticized the Arctic plans, and Bush’s calls for unspecified regulatory relief for the coal and oil refinery industries said, "We do not have to trade a clean, healthy environment for energy security," said Krupp. "Sound policy will allow us to have both."


Senator Joseph Lieberman is running on the Democratic ticket with Vice President Al Gore (Photo courtesy Office of the Senator)
During a visit to a park in Texas today, Gore's running mate Joseph Lieberman criticized the Arctic drilling proposal because of its long lead time and short oil supply. It would take oil companies seven to 12 years to begin producing oil in the refuge. Many experts believe the refuge would yield only enough oil to supply America’s needs for about six months.

"For a six month supply of oil a decade from now, it would cause irreversible damage to one of God's awesome creations and one of the last pure preserves of its kind in the world," Lieberman said. "Our children and our nation deserve better."