President presses case to open ANWR

Posted: Monday, February 18, 2002

ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE -- President Bush, greeted by snowfall on his first presidential visit to Alaska, pressed his argument Saturday for oil and gas drilling in the Arctic wilds here.

The ''Arctic warriors'' stationed at this base some 650 miles south of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge applauded Bush's controversial call to open the preserve to energy exploration. His broad energy package is stalled in the Senate, where the Democratic majority fears the environmental impact of drilling in ANWR.

Bush said dependence on foreign oil is a threat to national security.

''Folks, we got to find energy in our own country, and a great place to start is right here in the state of Alaska,'' he told troops in camouflage fatigues and fleece jackets.

Stumbling a bit over his words after the seven-hour flight from Washington, Bush added that drilling at home is also in the nation's economic interests.

''It's good for jobs, it's good for working people, it's good for people to be able to put money on the plate -- money on the table -- so they can feed their families.''

With clear disdain, he brushed off environmentalist critics and summed up their opposition to Arctic drilling in this way: ''Well you can't do that; it's going to ruin this or that.'''

''Listen,'' Bush continued, ''there's no doubt in my mind ... there's no doubt in the minds of people who take a sound scientific look at this, that we can do so without endangering the environment, that we can find energy for America's people and at the same time preserve the beauty of Alaska.''

Bush was in Alaska on a refueling stop for Air Force One as it carried him, and an entourage including first lady Laura Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell, overseas to a three-nation Asia tour.

With Japan, China and South Korea on his itinerary, Bush paid tribute to the 500 or more men and women of the 90th fighter squadron who returned to Elmendorf in December from deployment on the Korean peninsula.

''That's exactly why I'm heading over to South Korea, so if you've got somebody you want me to say hello to -- never mind,'' he told laughing troops.

Bush, who briefly donned a bulky parka with massive fur-lined hood, boasted that he was the only U.S. president ever to call Alaska home. That was the summer of 1974, when he was 28 years old and working a desk job at a construction company in Fairbanks.

In the 2 1/2 hours that Bush was in Alaska on Saturday, he also scooped up $400,000 for the state Republican Party. He headlined a $1,000-per-plate luncheon where big spenders willing to part with $10,000 apiece also got their photo taken with the president.

Acknowledging the novelty of such presidential politicking in the country's northernmost reaches, Bush made brief mention of the 2000 election recount and Alaska's role in putting him just barely over the top: ''Who said your three electoral votes didn't matter?''



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