Outdoors couple favor Bush stand on drilling

Posted: Tuesday, August 01, 2000

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Roy Burkhart grew up around the Pittsburgh steel mills and recalls hard times when the steel industry soured.

After 40 years in Alaska, his memories are a reminder to Burkhart and his wife, June, a state delegate to the Republican National Convention, of the importance of a solid industrial backbone for a strong economy.

The Burkharts, who live on some of the most pristine land in the state, back Texas Gov. George W. Bush's commitment to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northern Alaska to drilling.

''I'm an outdoors person. All I do in the summertime is fish. I have a riverboat, I do a lot of hunting,'' said Buckhart, who with his wife own recreational property with 10 miles of shoreline on Nancy Lake near the small community of Willow, about 75 miles north of Anchorage.

''From a purely selfish viewpoint, it would be in my best interest if they didn't have any industry in Alaska. There'd be less people and I'd have more of it to myself,'' Burkhart said. ''From a practical viewpoint, we have children there, grandchildren there, and they have to have jobs. I had to leave Pittsburgh because the mill shut down and there were no jobs.''

June Burkhart said she believes oil drilling and the environment can thrive together.

''The oil companies have proven that by drilling in these various places that it doesn't destroy wildlife. We have oil fields on Prudhoe Bay and we have one of the largest caribou herds in the state there,'' she said. ''There have been many pictures taken of the caribou either stepping over the pipeline or walking under it. It didn't bother them a bit, and it's been one of the best things, economically, that's ever happened to Alaska.''

The Buckharts, who describe themselves as conservationists, said Bush has a particular understanding of Alaska' position, having spent two years in the state during construction of the Alaska pipeline.

A slogan on their convention vests advocates drilling in the Arctic refuge, and oil lobbyists for years have pushed opening the coastal strip to exploration that they say could produce 10 billion barrels of oil.

President Clinton has blocked congressional attempts to authorize such drilling and Vice President Al Gore has promised to protect the region, which environmentalists view as an ecological sanctuary.

Bush has said drilling there is vital to reducing America's reliance on foreign oil.

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