The continuing debate over limited oil drilling in the enormous and remote Arctic National Wildlife Refuge spotlights the degree to which the Democratic Party and environmental groups have become obstructionists when it comes to oil and gas development.
Democrats and two liberal Republicans in the Senate succeeded Wednesday in stopping a provision that would have allowed oil exploration in ANWR. The measure fell four votes short of stopping a threatened filibuster. That’s a disappointment for those Americans who are tired of high gasoline prices, even though it was less than ideal for the measure to have been included in a defense spending bill.
Many of the same people arguing against the president’s “war for oil” can be counted on to oppose new oil drilling within the United States. Many of the same senators trying desperately to stop the ANWR drilling provision have also loudly condemned supposed gasoline price-gouging by oil companies.
Perhaps it’s too much to expect consistency or economic literacy in Congress. ANWR comprises 19 million acres in Alaska. The oil drilling proposal, which had passed the House on a 308-106 vote, would impact a tiny area, and the drilling — for about 10 billion barrels of crude oil, according to The Associated Press — would be done with strong environmental safeguards.
We’re not talking obliterating a natural treasure, but the regulated development of a portion of a vast wilderness. Yet the usual no-growth crowd is claiming the plan will harm caribou calving grounds.
It’s noteworthy that the Alaskan people, including Eskimos who live near the area, are overwhelmingly in favor of the oil development. Alaska’s two senators are the strongest supporters of the plan. While Alaskans want the jobs and investment that will come from ANWR drilling, they would be unlikely to so strongly support something that might destroy their communities.
Opponents argue that the oil produced from ANWR won’t come close to creating energy independence for the United States. Of course, it won’t. The point is to develop as many sources as possible, in an environmentally sound way. These many efforts will improve oil capacity and reduce dependence on more unstable sources of oil (i.e., in war-ravaged parts of the world).
The problem is that the political left is uncomfortable with oil development in general. It offers no real alternatives other than using government subsidies to promote alternative energy and government regulation to reduce driving and increase mass-transit use. Those on the left, however, complain when prices of gasoline rise too high, and then want to impose windfall-profit taxes on the oil companies. But it is their policies of punishing oil development that really drive up costs.
Senators should try again next year to do the sensible thing and open up ANWR to oil exploration.