Friday, November 9, 2001

One of the most important lessons America can learn from the September 11 terrorist attacks is that we need to develop alternatives to Middle East oil. Not in another 10 to 20 years, but fast.
Sure, the Saudis and the region’s other oil-producing fiefdoms are happy to sell us oil today. But the region is teeming with people who hate the United States and the West. And, as we saw during Jimmy Carter’s feckless presidency, when the powerful Shah of Iran was ousted by Islamic radicals, none of the regimes is guaranteed power in perpetuity. Especially those regimes, like the Saudis, which might be seen by the radicals as too cozy with the West.
You would think all 535 members of the House and Senate would understand this. After all, it’s only common sense. But not apparently to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota, who decided recently to spike the president’s far-reaching energy plan rather than let it come to the Senate floor for debate and a vote because he opposes oil and gas exploration in the so-called Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). So the energy plan just sits there, languishing in legislative limbo.
The United States currently imports over 40 percent of its oil from the OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) cartel, which includes such stalwart U.S. “friends” as Iran and Libya, as well as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
As Interior Secretary Gale Norton noted on Oct. 22, we even import some 700,000 barrels of oil per day from Iraq, at an annual cost of $4 billion. So ending our dependence on Middle East oil supplies is absolutely vital.
But instead of weaning ourselves as much as possible from Middle Eastern oil, the opposite has been occurring. Analyst Charlene Coon of the Heritage Foundation, for example, observed just two weeks after the murderous suicide attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that our reliance on imported oil has been increasing steadily for “the past 25 years.”
According to the Energy Department, U.S. oil imports increased by some 40 percent from 35 percent of the total consumed in the U.S. to 46 percent between 1973, when we faced an Arab oil embargo, and 1996, just after the Gulf war.
And the trend has continued. In 1996, the Heritage Foundation expert noted, the United States imported 17 percent of its oil from the Middle East. Last year: 24 percent.
This dangerous dependency can only end if we take the steps necessary to make it end. To borrow a time-honored phrase: Energy does not grow on trees. We need to take advantage of all available resources oil, natural gas, nuclear power and “alternative” energy sources and we can do so without damaging the environment.
As Miss Coon has knowingly pointed out, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is in a remote part of Alaska, above the Arctic Circle, where fewer than 1,000 people live in an area the size of South Carolina.
It is not a winter wonderland, but a winter wasteland, where temperatures regularly reach 70 below zero.
And nobody is proposing laying waste to this wasteland. Just 2,000 acres, an area about the size of Washington’s Dulles International Airport, have been approved for potential exploration and development out of ANWR’s 19 million acres.
Moreover, oil exploration and development can coexist with the environment. For proof, just look at Louisiana, a state of 4 million with some of the most environmentally sensitive marshes in the country. “Yet, in the middle of this far more populous, far warmer, far more vulnerable environment, oil production thrives,” Miss Coon notes. “Some 46 wells churn daily to help meet America’s growing energy needs in Louisiana’s Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge, one of the most environmentally sensitive areas in the world.”
Her point: If oil production and nature can function side by side in the Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge, certainly they can function side by side in the other ANWR.
I say to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and his allies: Stop demagoging and start drilling. Our economy, but more importantly our security, depends on it.

Roger H. Zion, a former Indiana Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives (1967-75), is chairman of the 60 Plus Association, a national senior-citizen organization. He was head of the Republican Task Force on Energy and Resources when President Nixon faced the Arab oil embargo in 1973.

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