Plight of Alaska Eskimos forgotten in ANWR debate

by U.S. Representative Don Young, Alaska

During the federal budget debate in October 1995, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt held a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol where he was joined by actor Ted Danson, several liberal congressmen, and numerous environmental activists. Don Young

Amid the television cameras and a mass of Capitol Hill reporters, they stated how they intended to stop the so-called "special interest groups" from including a budget proposal to allow for oil leasing in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

Among those in the audience were a group of Alaska Eskimos who had traveled over 7,000 miles from the most barren and desolate region of Alaska to talk about the most important issue facing their people - the limited oil leasing in ANWR. These people included Inupiat Eskimo whaling captains, subsistence hunters, Native health officials, and fishermen. They were also leaders in their respective villages and regional governments.

While Secretary Babbitt, Ted Danson and the professional environmentalists have claimed an overwhelming majority of the media attention, the Alaskan Eskimos have been the "forgotten" people of the ANWR debate. The voice of the Eskimos - the people who actually live in ANWR and who will benefit the most from limited oil exploration - has been ignored.

These Eskimos came to Washington, D.C. to explain to Congress that many of their people throughout Alaska live in primitive living conditions because of a lack of funding for the basic needs most of us take for granted, like clean drinking water, flushing toilets, and other important health and safety needs.

Unfortunately, these conditions have not changed. The professional environmental lawyers and liberals in Congress are once again mounting an effort to permanently stop even the most limited oil exploration in the Coastal Plain. U.S. Rep. Bruce Vento (D-MN) and U.S. Sen. William Roth (R-DE) have introduced legislation to lock up the area forever as a wilderness area.

This effort is misguided and wrong - wrong for Alaska's Eskimos, wrong for the American people, and wrong for America's national energy security. If ANWR is locked up forever, it would eliminate 700,000 American jobs and leave a possible 9 billion barrels of oil in the ground. Does this sound like a good policy for America's future?

Here are the facts:

  • 99% of ANWR will never be touched: The entire ANWR area consists of 19 million acres - an area the size of the State of South Carolina. Utilizing today's technology, the "footprint" by oil development would affect only 2,000 acres in the Coastal Plain - about the size of Dulles Airport.
  • Alaska has the safest oil fields in the world: Over 20 years of oil development in Alaska's Prudhoe Bay has proven that oil development can occur in an environmentally sound manner in the Arctic. Technology has improved and we can do an even better job in ANWR. Development and the environment can, and have, co-existed in Alaska for many years. Just ask the Eskimos who actually live there.
  • Wildlife has thrived since oil production began: The entire Coastal Plain may be a part-time home to some species, yet very few, if any, would be impacted from the development. The caribou herd which migrates through the existing Prudhoe Bay oil field has tripled since development began 20 years ago.
  • Act slowly, not during a crisis: By planning ahead, we can safely develop this small area in the Coastal Plain. If oil exploration were authorized today, it would be at least 10 to 15 years before oil production would begin. Under this careful timetable, we can conduct oil exploration and development in the most environmentally-sound manner. But if we wait until there's another oil embargo, like the one which occurred in the early 1970's, Congress, the White House and the American public will demand the oil from ANWR on an immediate and expedited basis. This would not allow us to take the necessary environmental safeguards Alaskans want in order to do this safely.
  • Federal government owns majority of Alaska: The federal government currently controls 242 million acres of land in Alaska - 37% of all the federal lands in the entire United States. To put this in perspective, this is one-and-a-half times the size of the entire state of Texas.
  • America needs Alaska's oil: Since Prudhoe Bay began production, it has accounted for 24% of U.S. oil production - but this is declining. The Coastal Plain would replace this oil and government geologists estimate there could be from 3.2 to 9.2 billion barrels of oil in the Coastal Plain. If 9.2 billion barrels of oil are recovered, the net national economic benefit would be $325 billion in the United States. It could create 735,000 new jobs throughout the nation, according to a 1990 study by Wharton Econometrics Forecasting Associates.

I urge you to contact your U.S. representative and senators to express your support for our environmentally-sound effort for oil exploration in ANWR. Also, let them know that you oppose efforts to permanently lock up the Coastal Plain as a wilderness area.

Members of Congress continually hear from the professional environmental organizations. It's important that they also hear from the true environmentalists - the people who believe that wise land policies are best formed by the people who actually live in areas affected.

Don Young is Chairman of the House Committee on Resources and the author of the provision to allow for limited oil leasing in the Coastal Plain region of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Article courtesy of People for the West!


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