WASHINGTON — This week, as Congress and the Administration have pondered the biggest Wall Street bailout in history, the oil industry and its friends in Congress seized on the week’s news to propose the same old misguided “solution” they offer for everything: drilling the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
The leader of the charge this time is Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), a friend of the oil industry who has racked up more than $1.2 million in campaign contributions from oil and gas industry supporters during his career in the House. Joined by 56 other Republican members of Congress (many of whom have shared another $4 million in career oil industry campaign contributions), Barton wrote to President Bush suggesting that revenue from opening the Refuge and the eastern Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas leasing be used to pay for the estimated $700 billion bailout. “This ploy is so transparent it’s almost laughable,” said Cindy Shogan, Executive Director of the Alaska Wilderness League (AWL). “It’s the same old agenda that the industry has been pushing for decades, dusted off to coincide with this week’s financial news. Intelligent Americans will see this proposal for what it is: a transparent excuse for an oil-industry land grab.” “The calving and nursery grounds of the Arctic Refuge are sacred to the Gwich’in People, and must not be sacrificed for short-term political gain,” added Luci Beach of the Gwich’in Steering Committee. "Oil companies and their the friends in Congress have sunk to new lows. They want to liquidate the American people's natural assets, and despoil one of the last great wildernesses, all to bail out corporate fat-cats on Wall Street,” said Noah Matson, Vice President for Land Conservation at Defenders of Wildlife. “It's shameless." Drilling in the Arctic Refuge would not yield any revenues that could address the immediate financial crisis. Even if drilling were begun today, revenues from any oil that might be found in the Refuge would not be realized until long into the future. The truth, AWL’s Shogan said, is that drilling the Refuge is “an outcome the oil and gas industry has been seeking all along.” Drilling has always been a bad idea for this extraordinary wildlife refuge, a place that has been protected by Republicans and Democrats alike. “An Arctic drilling proposal should not be part of any Wall Street bailout package,” she warned.