A tale of two hearings for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

New day, new made-up reasons to drill in Washington, and an unprecedented turnout of Arctic Refuge wilderness supporters in Anchorage

written by Neil Shader in Washington DC and Tim Woody in Anchorage

It seems that Big Oil and their Congressional allies are relentless. When it comes to drilling in the Arctic Refuge, there is never a crisis for which drilling isn’t the answer. High oil prices? Drill the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Too few jobs in America? Drill the Arctic Refuge. The latest – what can we do to reduce the deficit? – has the same answer – “drill ANWR”.

The House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on Sept. 21 to discuss opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling, and using the revenue to pay down the federal deficit. As with many of these hearings, there was heated rhetoric from both sides. While drilling promoters trotted out questionable jobs statistics, defenders of the Arctic Refuge quickly pointed out flaws in the arguments – many of them stemming from inflated numbers in an oil-industry produced jobs report.

(For more on myths from the oil industry, check our True Grit series.)

“It’s not creative. It’s not new,” said Gene Karpinski of the League of Conservation Voters of the idea to drill in the Arctic Refuge. Karpinski and David Jenkins of Republicans for Environmental Protection defended the Arctic Refuge from the pro-drilling witnesses, including the Alaska congressional delegation, noting that the sky-high estimates of available oil and job creation potential were suspect at best, and would have devastating impacts on the Arctic Refuge.

But while members of Congress argued in Washington, another hearing was taking place across the country, showing how much support the Arctic Refuge has in Alaska.

In Anchorage, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hosted a public hearing on the Arctic Refuge’s draft revised Comprehensive Conservation Plan, and people who spoke in favor of wilderness protection for the Coastal Plain and other parts of the refuge outnumbered the pro-drilling crowd by a margin of 2 to 1.

Many Gwich’in tribal members attended, and a wide array of citizens spoke passionately about their love for the refuge and the importance of preserving it in pristine condition for future generations. Instead of pleas for short-term gains in oil revenue and jobs, the majority of Alaskans at the hearing called for responsible stewardship of wildlife, the preservation of a unique and irreplaceable landscape, and protections for Native culture and subsistence ways of life.

The message from Alaskans was clear: The Arctic Refuge is too special to sacrifice for oil.

The question is, will anyone in Washington listen?

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