- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 16, 2002

What is happening right now in the U.S. Senate is a disgrace. The Democratic leadership is intentionally blocking a vote on the House-passed energy bill, despite polls that indicate Americans support the plan by huge margins. The debate is strictly about politics to the detriment of U.S. security.

We senior citizens have been victims of this appalling indifference since we were young working stiffs in the days of the Carter administration shortages and the Nixon-era Arab oil embargo. Most seniors are on fixed incomes, so we are particularly vulnerable to variations in the supply and price of oil products, since every price rise reduces our spending power.

The bill that passed the House (H.R. 4) with strong bipartisan support is a balanced measure that keep prices steady and reduces our dependence on imports. It includes conservation measures, investment in research and development of renewable energy sources and other new technologies, including vehicle technologies, and development of domestic petroleum sources.

The problem is that Democratic leaders, in a bow to their radical environmental constituencies, are preventing an honest debate and vote on the issue.

The environmental "greens" oppose the legislation, they say, because they want to protect the environment in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR). Their claims, however, are bogus. They say drilling would destroy ANWR. Yet only a tiny patch just 2,000 acres would be open for drilling in the 19 million-acre Arctic reserve.

They also know that the 2,000-acre area on the coastal plain of ANWR is a desolate, lifeless wasteland, not a "pristine" wilderness grazing ground for caribou and "Arctic elk" (there is no such animal). Their arguments are even more dishonest because caribou are thriving in Alaska's nearby petroleum development fields and along the Alaska pipeline.

The greens also claim drilling would threaten the way of life of native peoples, none of whom live anywhere near the coastal plain. The whole campaign is a fraud.

This debate is not about biology or ecology, it is about politics and power about who will control America's energy policy, America's economy, and America's way of life. If the greens and their political allies win, the rest of us lose.

At present count, there are more than enough votes in the Senate Democrat and Republican alike to pass the House bill. But the Senate leadership is preventing an honest floor vote by insisting that 60 votes are needed to pass the bill.

That's why seniors across America have joined with farmers, union members, business leaders and others to support the energy plan. We know that opening ANWR will protect seniors from devastating price gouging, will protect farmers from the enormous losses caused by energy price fluctuations and will protect workers from idle factories and lost jobs.

Depending on foreign oil for more than 50 percent of our needs is suicidal. President Bush is right when he said we must break our dependence on countries that sometimes like us, sometimes don't. Or worse, our dependence on countries that never like us, such as "axis of evil" charter member Iraq, which even now provides America with more than 1 million barrels of oil a day.

Do the terrorists have to bomb Mount Rushmore in South Dakota to persuade Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle to set aside partisan politics and do the right thing?

James L. Martin is president of the 60 Plus Association, a 10-year-old grass-roots senior citizen lobbying group.

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