Rep. Don Young shouted in triumph Wednesday when the U.S. House of Representatives approved oil drilling in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Exultation is understandable. It has been a long haul for the tenacious Alaska Republican, the state's two senators, a succession of governors, the oil industry and Alaskans who believe the state and nation stand to gain with the opening of part of the refuge to tap up to 16 billion barrels of oil. Organized labor and President George Bush also played a key role in the victory.
But the battle is only half over. There's still the Senate, and Democratic leaders there promise that ANWR drilling will go nowhere.
As the House vote showed, however, ANWR votes don't entirely follow party lines. Some Republicans remain opposed to drilling; some Democrats are in favor.
Though the odds are long in the Senate, Alaska's leaders won't hesitate to fight this battle tooth and nail, marshaling facts and allies to make the strongest case we can.
We'll do best by sticking to reason, making the case that, on balance, the opportunity to explore North America's best potential oil find outweighs the environmental risks. It won't help to demonize drilling foes or pretend Alaskans speak with one voice. Those who oppose refuge drilling are no less Alaskan than those who support it. Some, like the Gwich'in, can argue they are more Alaskan than drilling supporters. To win in the Senate, the case must be made on decent and thoughtful terms.
And let's not promise more than ANWR can deliver. Drilling in the coastal plain won't, by itself, do much to shave gasoline prices or make the United States energy independent. It's a substantial contribution and another domestic source in a volatile global oil patch, but it won't change our fundamental dependence on foreign oil.
We believe the industry can step lightly enough to develop ANWR's reserves without substantial harm to wildlife and the rest of the magnificent beauty of the refuge. Will there be an impact? Of course. Supporting exploration in ANWR is a matter of balance. The benefits of development in revenues, jobs and opportunities in Alaska and oil for the nation outweigh the inevitable damage that development will do to a small piece of ANWR land -- 2,000 acres in a 1.5 million-acre coastal plain, if the House bill stands.
We're also convinced that the industry -- with the help of cold-eyed and steady regulatory oversight -- can develop these reserves with minimal impact.
Alaska and the United States cannot stop producing oil. While conservation measures are necessary -- and not given sufficient heed by this administration -- the nation's economy and defense require stable, long-term sources of oil. In a better world, we could tap the sun and leave compressed dinosaurs deep underground. But we live in this world, where the challenge is to safeguard our environment while we make a living.
We can meet that challenge in ANWR. Now we need to convince the Senate.
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