- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 2, 2000

Sen. Frank H. Murkowski accused the Clinton administration yesterday of presiding over eight years of failed energy policy, saying U.S. reliance on foreign oil endangers national security.

Mr. Murkowski, who chairs the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, called for opening of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for oil exploration as part of the solution.

"Our nation is being held hostage by the Middle East, as supplier of the oil that we've become addicted to," the Alaska Republican told reporters at the National Press Club.

"Remember, U.S. forces at risk are in place to protect oil we depend on from the Middle East. That dependence illustrates the failure of our energy policy and constitutes a threat to our national security."

But just down the hall, a group of environmentalists held a competing news conference to release a letter from some 200 scientists urging President Clinton to give the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge monument status and permanently ban oil exploration in the area.

"They are advocating sticking oil wells smack in the middle of the wildest place left in America," said Jamie Rappaport Clark, head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a crown jewel. We need to protect it."

She said that the habitat of caribou, polar bears, musk ox and countless other species would be irreparably damaged if oil companies were allowed to drill in the area along Alaska's north coast.

Dan Lashof, senior scientist at the National Resources Defense Council, said the United States cannot "produce its way out of oil price spikes."

With winter approaching, heating oil prices and gasoline prices are at their highest point in years and U.S. energy policy has become an issue in the presidential campaign.

Republican candidate Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who once worked in the oil business, is in favor of opening the refuge to oil exploration. Democratic candidate Al Gore opposes drilling in the ANWR, and instead proposes tax incentives to make cars, homes and businesses more energy efficient.

Mr. Murkowski reminded the audience that the USS Cole was in the Persian Gulf "patrolling the oil lanes" when it was attacked in Yemen Oct. 12, killing 17 persons.

He also said that forces in the region are currently at "Threatcon Delta," the highest stage of alert in anticipation of another terrorist attack, all because nearly 60 percent of the oil consumed in the United States comes from foreign sources.

He noted that the United States consumes about 600,000 barrels of Iraqi oil a day.

"How can we be an honest broker in the Middle East when we are beholden to Saddam Hussein for oil," he said.

The area of contention is 1.5 million acres of pristine Alaska coast line above the Arctic Circle.

If Congress were to allow exploration to begin tomorrow, it would take 10 years to come to fruition. Environmentalists say that there is a negligible amount of oil in ANWR, but Mr. Murkowski claimed that drilling there could reduce U.S. dependence on foreign sources by as much as 10 percent.

Like many issues in this election, the polls vary.

The Wilderness Society, which opposes drilling, recently produced a poll showing that 56 percent of Americans want the wildlife refuge untouched.

But the Christian Science Monitor and the Chicago Tribune both conducted polls showing that Americans, fearing higher gas prices, want the refuge opened for drilling by 54 percent and 52 percent respectively.

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