Monday, April 4, 2005

Despite failure of hard-core environmentalist organizations to diminish George W. Bush’s convincing re-election victory, their renewed attacks on the president are clear: to obstruct his second-term environmental agenda.

Yet, with sky-rocketing oil prices likely driving gasoline pump prices to new highs, many Americans begin to question the credibility of the extreme green agenda.

Consider the current attack on the Bush administration by the Natural Resources Defense Council, which is using the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), a 19.6-million-acre federal reserve, for its latest membership and fund-raising drive.

Even before the U.S. Senate’s recent vote to support the Bush administration’s proposal to allow oil and natural gas production on a small portion of the refuge’s northernmost region, Hollywood icon and council board member Robert Redford signed on to lead the attack.

In a mailing, Mr. Redford asserts, “President Bush is now claiming a mandate… to destroy” the Arctic refuge. The actor accuses the president and congressional leaders of turning “America’s greatest sanctuary for arctic wildlife into a vast polluted oil field” for the sake of “oil company profits.”

The mailer claims species such as Porcupine caribou, arctic wolf, polar bear and others “now stand on the brink of oblivion” from Mr. Bush’s “destructive energy plan,” which amounts to “stealing from our children and grandchildren.” Mr. Redford urges recipients to sign and return the Save ANWR cards, join the organization and, of course, send money.

Most people now recognize Mr. Bush urges oil and gas drilling in Alaska in order to reduce the massive U.S. oil dependency on unfriendly, unstable and erratic foreign governments. The Interior Department estimates Alaska’s 1.5 million-acre Coastal Plain has from 10 billion to 16 billion barrels of recoverable oil.

Drilling engineers believe recent technological advances would require as few as 2,000 surface acres to recover the underlying oil and natural gas — meaning just one acre for every 10,000 acres in the refuge area.

Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens and other proponents debunk the doomsday predictions, noting how the Porcupine caribou herd occupying the Prudhoe Bay oil field on Alaska’s North Slope increased tenfold — from 3,000 to 32,000 animals — since oil production began there in 1977.

In fact, there are no scientific studies demonstrating any Arctic species has been reduced in number as a result of North Slope oil-production activity. And, with upward of a half-million new jobs expected if drilling is approved, polls show 75 percent of Alaskans favor drilling, including the local Inupiat Eskimos.

Living in their rarified environment, the activist green community regards these confrontations as “no-lose” opportunities. If their “little truth/big-scare” tactics don’t thwart Mr. Bush’s more balanced and people-friendly environmental agenda, they lose nothing. Attacking Mr. Bush raises their membership and millions of dollars in contributions.

With the Senate’s support of drilling in Alaska, we can only expect the shrill rhetoric to increase. But, in fact, it is Mr. Bush’s common-sense approach and balancing of environmental concerns with real human needs that subjects him to the wrath of extreme greens. Fortunately, more Americans are beginning to understand this.

M. David Stirling, a former chief deputy attorney general of California, is vice president of Pacific Legal Foundation which champions environmental balance in the courts.

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