Democratic Controlled Congress Shapes New Energy Policy

WASHINGTON, DC, January 8, 2007 (ENS) - A bill to make permanent the current ban on drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, ANWR, was one of the first measures proposed in the House of Representatives, now controlled by a majority of Democrats.

Bills to allow drilling in the refuge have passed the House 10 times in previous Congressional sessions, but these measures have all been turned back by the Senate.

The current measure is sponsored by Massachusetts Congressman Edward Markey, a Democrat, and cosponsored by Minnesota Congressman Jim Ramstad, a Republican. “I am proud to cosponsor this important legislation to permanently protect this pristine wilderness for all Americans," Ramstad said.

Markey

Congressman Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, has been fighting drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for years. (Photo courtesy Office of the Congressman)
Markey has been a chief Congressional opponent of drilling in the 1.2 million acre strip of the refuge along Alaska's north coast.

Introducing the bill Thursday, Markey said, "The coastal plain is the biological heart of the refuge and is central to the survival of many unique species of animals including caribou, polar bears, musk oxen, wolves, and over 160 species of birds. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service calls the coastal plain the 'center for wildlife activity' in the refuge. If we were to allow drilling in the refuge it would irreparably disrupt this important ecosystem and one of our last great wild places will be forever scarred and destroyed."

According to estimates by the U.S. Geological Survey, ANWR holds between 5.7 and 16 billion barrels of recoverable reserves, with a mean estimate of 10.4 billion barrels.

The Bush administration supports drilling in the refuge. Then Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham told the National Petroleum Council in June 2004, "We have been working with members of both parties on Capitol Hill to pass a bill that would encourage large-scale domestic petroleum production in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge."

ANWR

A scene from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (Photo courtesy ANWR)
In March 2005, Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico, then chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, issued a statement in support of "environmentally-gentle development of oil" in ANWR "on a 2,000 acre footprint [which] will generate billions of dollars for the U.S. Treasury."

"Now is the time for ANWR," Domenici said. "Oil is trading above $50 a barrel, we have American boots on the ground in the Middle East, global supplies are tight and China and India are driving up demand."

But Markey said a 267,000 gallon oil spill from a BP Alaska pipeline last March, the largest in the history of the North Slope, forever exposed the myth of "so-called environmentally-gentle" oil drilling.

"The reality is that drilling for oil is a dirty business and opening the Arctic Refuge to drilling would forever ruin this untouched special place," said Markey.

"If we were to allow drilling in the Arctic Refuge, the crown jewel of the Wildlife Refuge System, it would represent a colossal shift in the policy and precedent governing our wildlife refuges," he said. "Prying open the Arctic Refuge for drilling would set a dangerous precedent that would allow the oil companies to select any of the other 544 as the next target for oil drilling."

drill rig

Drill rig on Alaska's North Slope, not in ANWR (Photo courtesy ANWR)
"If Congress were to ever turn the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge into an industrial footprint by allowing oil drilling, the impact on the land and the wildlife would be permanent but the hoped-for energy benefits only temporary," said Markey.

"There are some places in our world that are so rare and so special, that we have a responsibility to protect them," he said. "The Arctic Refuge is one of those places."

The bill, known as the H.R.39, the Udall-Eisenhower Arctic Wilderness Act, has been referred to House Committee on Natural Resources.

In the Senate, where Democrats hold a slim one seat majority, Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada introduced the National Energy and Environment Security Act of 2007 on Friday.

To reduce dependence on foreign and unsustainable energy sources, the bill proposes to increase the efficiency of cars and trucks, through increased CAFE standards as well as through "feebate" proposals that encourage the production and sale of high-efficiency vehicles.

“Another way to reduce our dependence is to further develop alternative fuels and particularly biofuels," said Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, the new chair of the Senate Energy Committee and a cosponsor of the bill. "In that regard, we need to focus on broadening the base of biological feedstocks that are used to make fuels such as ethanol. This is an issue we'll be focusing on in the Energy Committee."

Bingaman

Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, a Democrat, supports Congressional action on global warming. (Photo courtesy Office of the Senator)
One of the goals of this bill is to "reduce our exposure to the risks of global warming," Bingaman said. "There are several Senate committees with interest in this issue. The Environment and Public Works Committee has the primary jurisdiction, but over 95 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emission and the greenhouse gas emissions come from energy production, distribution and use. We want to work with other committees to find the best way to deal with this important issue."

While the Bush administration now acknowledges that global warming is a serious issue, administration officials have resisted labeling the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide as a pollutant and controlling it by law.

Regional groups of states, coalitions of cities and independent private market-based entitites such as the Chicago Climate Exchange instead have taken up the issue.

Other goals of the National Energy and Environment Security Act of 2007 are energy efficiency, full funding for the low-income home energy assistance program, and "to eliminate tax giveaways and prevent energy price gouging and manipulation," said Bingaman.

He stressed the necessity for bipartisan cooperation in Congress to achieve these goals, saying that the shape of energy legislation in the new Congress will be "multiple bills that move through the Senate as issues and proposals for addressing these issues become ripe for action," instead of one massive energy bill as proposed by the Bush administration.