- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 13, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 13 (UPI) — House lawmakers from both sides of the aisle introduced a bill Thursday that would prevent oil drilling in a coastal region of Alaska, continuing a decades-long debate on the controversial issue.

Reps. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Nancy Johnson, R-Conn., who announced the bill at a news conference, both supported improving fuel efficiency as a means to reduce oil dependency rather than drilling for oil.

The Morris K. Udall Wilderness Act, named after former Rep. Morris K. Udall, D-Ariz., would designate 1.6 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain as wilderness, thus making development, including oil drilling, in the area illegal.

"This is the most important environmental issue in Congress this year," Johnson said. She explained if drilling is allowed, it would irreparably damage the refuge.

The land, known as 1002, had been set aside in earlier legislation for research on the potential effects of oil drilling but would remain closed to developers unless specified by Congress.

Markey noted the current bill has more than 125 cosponsors, both Democratic and Republican, and expressed optimism the bipartisan effort and heightened interest in the issue would push the legislation through.

"What Ike Eisenhower started, George Bush should not be able to put asunder," said Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., invoking memory of the arctic refuge's early beginnings in 1960 and subsequent history of environmentalism. "Teddy Roosevelt would truly be spinning in his grave knowing what an American president is trying to do to destroy one of the great jewels of the American wildlife system."

"They're truly environmental leaders," Brian Moore, legislative director of the Alaska Wilderness League, said of the bill sponsors. "This is the most pristine wildlife we have."

"The Markey-Johnson legislation reflects what the majority of the American people want," Moore told United Press International.

On the other side of the fence, Ron Arnold, executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, Bellevue, Wash., told UPI environmentalists are misrepresenting the land whose fate is in question. Referring to picture's on the center's Web site, he noted pictures environmentalists use look very different from what the land really looks like. The "wrong" photos portray green areas teeming with wildlife while the "right" ones look barren and gray.

As for the caribou and other species bill sponsors want to protect, Arnold used the example of drilling in Prudhoe Bay to show wildlife has not been seriously affected. When he flew to the area, he said someone had to shoo the caribou off the runway so the plane could land.

"They're counting on a lack of public knowledge," Arnold said. But the real issue, he added, is energy independence. In response to development opponents who said the refuge promises only six months of oil, he said the reserves would last only that long if the United States had no other way to obtain oil.

"That source probably will last a century combined with other sources," Arnold remarked. "It's not about nature — it's about ideology. They just don't like capitalism."




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