- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 11, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

“Drill, baby, drill,” chanted the crowds at the Republican National Convention. Does that include the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge?

John McCain’s selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate bolsters his credentials as an energy reformer - and indicates that he is willing to consider her arguments in favor of oil exploration in ANWR. He now has an opportunity to reverse his previous opposition against drilling in ANWR and to sent himself as an ardent champion of finding solutions to America’s most pressing energy needs - even in areas that are most cherished by environmentalists.

Both Mr. McCain and Mrs. Palin support offshore drilling. Yet Mrs. Palin has long been amongst the most ardent advocates for drilling in ANWR, while Mr. McCain has been opposed to it. However, in June Mr. McCain said he would “go back and look at it again.” Mrs. Palin told Human Events in July that she intended to convince Mr. McCain to reconsider: “I am encouraged with his evolved thinking on offshore drilling, and I think he might come along on ANWR if he sees our 2,000 acres for himself.” In July, she made a similar comment to CNBC’s Larry Kudlow: “He’s right on war, he’s right on with energy independence measures that need to be taken. Wrong on ANWR, but we’re still working on that one.” Now that she is his running mate, the issue is going to be addressed once again.

High gasoline prices and geopolitical tensions in the Middle East have led to a voter outcry for a solution to America’s dependence on foreign oil. The U.S. imports 60 percent of its daily oil consumption; much of this is from Canada. One-fifth of U.S. oil imports come from the Middle East, 10 percent from Venezuela and 8 percent from Nigeria. The Republicans are seizing the initiative by casting a spotlight on the recent failures of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democrat-led Congress to remedy the situation.

Mr. McCain has already changed his mind twice before on key energy and climate issues. In June, he dropped his longstanding opposition to offshore drilling on the grounds that the skyrocketing price of oil requires the pursuit of other options. He also reversed course on climate change. Following the many questions he was asked during his 2000 presidential race on the issue, he requested more information. He has since become a proponent of the cap and trade system. Similarly, Mr. McCain now requests more information on ANWR drilling - especially on whether this can be done without harming the environment.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that ANWR could contain 10.3 billion barrels of oil. There is nearly 19 million acres of untouched northeastern Alaska that has been protected land since 1960. Only a small fraction - 1.5 million acres of coastal plain - is believed to contain petroleum. Environmentalists nonetheless insist that drilling in even a small area of ANWR will upset the ecosystem. Mrs. Palin disagrees: She sued the federal government in May when the Department of the Interior listed the polar bear as an endangered species. She believes the mammals do not need additional protection and that the designation simply thwarts development.

The Alaska governor insists that there are many misconceptions about ANWR. In a CNBC interview, Mrs. Palin said: “You see pictures, you see visuals from the naysayers, the critics of the idea of opening ANWR, and the pictures that they’re showing are mountains and … polar bears, lots of different wildlife. They’ll show moose in a stream with mountains in the background. That’s not ANWR.” She insists that Alaskans support ANWR exploration: “Yes, because we believe that it can be done safely, it can be done prudently and it had better be done ethically, also. Yes, we want to see that drilling.”

Polls conducted throughout the summer show increasing support among Americans for ANWR drilling. In selecting Mrs. Palin to stand by his side, Mr. McCain is signaling that he too may fall into step with her on this vital issue.

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