Thursday, March 17, 2005

Republicans to Polar Bears: Screw You, Cubbie.

In a vote that failed to surprise anyone, the Republican Senate yesterday voted 51-49 to allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. A major energy policy win for the Bush administration, the vote took place when the Republicans buried the drilling language in this year's federal budget vote.

Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) then introduced the Democratic measure that would have removed the refuge drilling provision from next year's budget.

If won with a majority vote, this move would have allowed Democrats to use a filibuster, as they have in the past, to block repeated attempts to open the refuge to oil companies. If the overall budget now passes, it clears the way for drilling in the refuge later this year.

Meanwhile, environmentalists have fought the drilling saying that it would produce a relatively insignificant amount of oil at the expense of calving caribou, polar bears and millions of migratory birds that use the coastal plain.

"We won't see this oil for 10 years. It will have minimal impact," said Senator Cantwell. "It is foolish to say oil development and a wildlife refuge can coexist."

Senator John Kerry (D-MA), the man we hoped would be president, pointed out that this is a destructive measure and that the same goals could be achieved if Congress enacted an energy policy focusing on conservation, more efficient cars and trucks, increased reliance on renewable fuels and expanded oil development in the deep-water Gulf where there are significant reserves.

So, once again, a president and a party who claim to love the environment are pushing measures that serve only to destroy pristine wilderness, while lining the pockets of their contributors in the oil industry.

No big surprise there. But the list we need to keep is of the three Democrats who voted against Senator Cantwell's measure to protect the area: Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye of Hawaii and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. We need to keep our collective eye on these three and, if these Democrats continue to act like Republicans, we need to go shopping for new candidates when their terms expire.

Conversely, kudos go to the moderate Republicans who acted more like Democrats than Akaka, Inouye and Landrieu: Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) – Lincoln, babe, when you gonna just jump the fence and come to our side? – Susan Collins (R-ME), Mike DeWine (R-OH), John McCain (R-AZ), Gordon Smith (R-OR) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME).

President Eisenhower had the wisdom to create this 19-million-acre refuge in 1960. At least we had it for 45 years before the criminal wing of his party began its destruction.