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ANWR debate pitiful excuse

By Henry Lamb
web posted May 29, 2006

A good debate should be like a good tennis match; one side serves a powerful argument which is promptly returned by a compelling refutation. The volley continues until one side or the other misses, and a point is scored. The most recent Congressional debate on opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was a pitiful excuse for a debate.

Congressman Richard Pombo delivered a powerful serve, saying that the Energy Information Administration estimated that ANWR contains ten billion barrels of oil. Representative Alcee Hastings took the floor, and said that there is no scientific evidence to support claims that there is significant oil in ANWR.

By deliberately ignoring the abundance of scientific evidence developed over the years to support the presence of vast reserves, Hastings completely missed Pombo's serve, and instead responded with an absurd comment that didn't make it to the net.

A speaker in support of drilling pointed out that ANWR could pump a million barrels of oil per day for 30 years. Lynn Woolsey, from California, completely ignored the evidence, and claimed ANWR oil would last only six months.

Cynthia McKinney's contribution to the debate was the opinion that ANWR drilling would be a "handout to the oil lobby." And, taking advantage of the news that the Enron guilty verdicts were announced during the debate, Jay Inslee, from Washington, suggested that the reason the ANWR bill was introduced is because "this administration is in the pockets of Enron."

This pitiful display of political posturing should not be confused with debate, even very elementary debate. High school debaters who perform this poorly would be scrubbed from the team and sent for remedial instruction. The tragedy is that the outcome of the Congressional debate is not a trophy; it is the policy that will affect 300 million Americans.

A few weeks ago when gas prices topped $3.00 per gallon, many of these ANWR opponents raced to the TV cameras to blame the Bush administration. Last week, Congress was asked to lift the ban on offshore drilling. They refused. Now, for the thirteenth time, Congress is being asked to increase the supply of oil by opening ANWR. Ten years ago, Congress did approve drilling in ANWR, only to have the measure vetoed by Bill Clinton.

No one disputes that the reason for rapidly rising gasoline prices is the fact that world demand has outstripped world supply. Proponents of increased drilling recognize that only by increasing supply can price increases be held in check. Opponents of drilling contend that forced conservation measures, such as increased mileage standards, and alternative energy development offer the only solution.

What the ANWR opponents can't seem to comprehend is that the solution lies in pursuit of a careful combination of both objectives. Forced conservation measures should be avoided, but voluntary measures should be encouraged - as they are. Alternative energy sources should be developed - as they are. For at least two decades, taxpayers have subsidized and funded all types of alternative energy exploration and development.

Opponents of ANWR drilling seem to think that blocking all new oil development will force a quicker switch to alternative fuels. Sadly, these folks seem to think that government should manage not only the market, but the lives of individuals as well. In truth, government intervention in the market place is the largest factor in the current supply shortfall. Had government not prevented exploration and production when the market predicted the need decades ago, supplies today would be much closer to demand.

The transition from fossil fuel to whatever combination of fuels the future may produce should be market driven - not mandated by the government. The surest way to waste money and inflict economic pain is to let government attempt to manage the market through politically inspired mandates. This is the alternative preferred by the opponents to opening ANWR.

Once again, the House of Representatives has narrowly approved (225 to 201) legislation authorizing drilling in ANWR, as it has done several times since the Clinton veto. In the past, the measure has died in the Senate, for lack of the 60-vote extraordinary majority required under Senate rules. Every time every person fills a gas tank, the inevitable frustration and anger should be focused directly on these folks, especially those in the U.S. Senate, who zealously oppose expanding the supply of readily available domestic oil. The sooner we get about the business of increasing the supply, the sooner we can begin to see a decrease in the price.

Henry Lamb is the executive vice president of the Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO), and chairman of Sovereignty International.

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