They See is Oil, Gas, and Timber
August 4, 2001
J. Kevin Wetherington
Let us count the ways powerful corporate industry and their
political allies in congress shape the future of America.
While President George Bush has had a rosy ride through the
tulips getting most everything he proposes passed, the vote
on the energy bill in the House of Representatives last night
should give any American who doesn't own a petroleum company
or blinded by political ideology a slight pause for concern.
The energy debates raged from the time congress opened for
business until the next day and in the litany of discourse
between those who believe the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
is a baron wasteland and those who believe it is paradise
was often times incredulous, unfair and most of the time hypocritical.
Many times in passionate debate the truth lies somewhere
in between. While ANWR's intrinsic beauty can't really be
debated I am not so sure even the most ardent environmentalist
would like to spend much more than the two weeks of the summer
in Northern Alaska. Most of the year this is a cold, dark
and desolate place. And even the wildlife hits the road leaving
snow, ice, cold and nothing.
So the Republicans are right that often times this is a desolate
place. However, they push the envelope of the extreme when
they pay virtually no respect for the coastal plain that --
though for a short period of time -- is an ecological paradise.
The right-wing in this country has a perception problem in
that it believes ANWR is a waste. In fact, all land that isn't
"used" is being wasted (this explains the extreme "wise use"
euphemism that is part of right-wing dogma). All they can
see is oil, gas, and timber on any land and that land should
be used for "development." The thought of leaving it alone
just doesn't cross the mind of these people (Despite the fact
there is more than intrinsic value in public lands as 300
million plus visitors to public lands last year will attest
What is most discerning about the extreme vitriol, which
borders on hate, from the Republicans is their hypocrisy,
which is enough to fill the energy grid in California for
the next thousand years.
Case 1: Representative Tom Delay, Texas-R, said he
hoped to pass ANWR drilling in this bill to, "crack the back
of radical environmentalists."
So this is about a vendetta against environmentalists. I
thought this was our most important energy policy in history.
What is most conspicuous about these "radical" environmentalists
is the fact this seems to be a majority of people in this
country. In virtually every poll the American people support
environmental protection, conservation and are diametrically
opposed to drilling in ANWR. Who are these radicals Tom Delay
speaks of? People who simply don't agree with him? They say
name-calling is the last refuge for the scoundrel.
Case 2: The Republicans call many on the progressive
left "scare-mongers", but a recent Republican love fest was
a brilliant exercise in scare mongering if there ever was
one. The right-wing hand wringing talked about men in body
bags (over warring for foreign crude presumably), economic
destruction and the ilk if we didn't drill in ANWR. So, our
energy situation is in such a horrid state of distress we
need to go get the 20 billion barrels of oil out of ANWR.
And this will solve it all, right? Wrong again. While it sounds
good, the fact of the matter is ANWR can only supply at most
3 years worth of supply (and this figure is open for debate).
I know you've heard the argument about how there is enough
oil to last 30 years. Heck, if you only used 1 barrel a day
it can be argued ANWR has enough supply to last us 54 million
years. Now talk about a windfall.
Further, if our energy situation is in such peril one has
to wonder why a modest 3-mile per gallon increase in CAFE
standards was not adopted. If things are this bad shouldn't
more have been done? The Republicans won't go for that, because
oil company profit is only maximized through enhanced consumption
and certainly not conservation. Additionally, these oil companies
are getting $15 billion in tax breaks to boot. Republicans
are the first ones clamoring about a welfare mom "getting
over" on the system for a few extra bucks, but never find
the time to question the outrageous human rights and environmental
exploitation by large industry. By and large, regular people
who consider themselves Republicans justify nefarious practices
of huge corporations and the pols they've bought off.
Case 3: We are told the area in ANWR big oil wants
to drill is "only" a small part of the refuge itself. Was
this the same argument used when most of the land and native
wildlife in the lower 48 states was pushed to extinction and/or
endangerment? Some of the same animals free and protected
from land exploitation at one time roamed the lower 48 states.
Is this the same argument used when they started polluting
our rivers? Is it good that "only" 40 percent of our major
rivers are no longer swimmable or fishable? Heck, we still
have 60 percent we can swim in right? So, the big oil companies
and their political lapdogs are saying, "ya know, we only
want this much of ANWR," when they neglect to explain
what they have already taken, destroyed and exploited.
Instead of arguing the proportion from the standpoint of
ANWR itself, where was the truth in the debate stating that
currently 95% of the Alaskan North Slope is open for oil development?
Additionally, leases have already been handed out to the oil
companies that have yet to be acted on. Sure, when one says
that "we only want 2 thousand acres of 19 million," most people
would scoff at the notion this isn't fair. However, in truth
this is the continuation of the slippery slope. Not only does
big oil have 95% of Northern Alaska, but are now encroaching
on the last 5 percent. After this small portion is used up,
will they come back to the troth and ask for another 2,000
Case 4: Then there is the case of states-rights. Somewhere
in a dark corner of the right-wing enclave is a group of states-rights
militants. And there was no better example of this mentality
than Alaska Congressman Don Young (R) who gave an impassioned,
"where do you get off telling us (Alaskans) what we should
not do with our land" speech.
The most humorous thing about Mr. Young is he didn't mind
telling Florida what they should or should not do with their
land. He actively supported offshore drilling in Florida.
I guess it is fine for Young to tell Floridians what they
should do with their land, but the shoe doesn't fit on the
other foot. Young is easily one of the 5 most ardent anti-environmentalists
in the congress. I guess before Americans plundered our vast
natural riches in the lower 48 states we weren't very environmentally
Case 5: The Republicans rightly state it is troublesome
that we are dependent on foreign oil. This is very true, however,
why stop there? What is troublesome is our dependence on oil
period. Some Republicans even said on the floor that our economy
was "based on oil", if that isn't a horrific thought. So let's
cut to the chase. Here in America, the most powerful and technologically
advanced nation, we still rely and "base our economy" on technology
(internal combustion engine) created in the 1800s.
The essential truth is while the Republicans pay lip service
to conservation, their policy is to entrench their corporate
allies and to serve up the drug for the oil addicted consumer.
It's a win/win situation right? John Doe can still drive his
12 miles per gallon SUV and the oil companies can make a run
at those record profits they made just last year.
Any talk by the congressional Republicans toward alternative
energy, renewable energy, conservation or investment in these
technologies is only rhetoric. No one who breathes oxygen
really believes that the Republicans will do anything to cut
off the corporate feeder from Washington to big oil. However,
the right isn't stupid and they know this country is antagonistic
toward destructive environmental policies and do in fact support
conservation. So they cleverly paint the Black Death with
pretty colors and call it something else.
It all boils down to the desire to exploit and the refusal
to conserve. What happens when gas prices go up? NUMBER 1-many
people think about conserving, buying energy efficient cars,
carpooling, etc. And NUMBER 2-It fosters initiative to promote
alternative sources of energy, exactly what Carter did in
the 1970s, before Reagan came along and wiped out those tax
credits for alternative sources of energy. When Jerry Brown
was governor of California he promoted many of the same initiatives,
but those too were wiped out when a Republican assumed the
chair in the Governor's office.
Do oil companies maximize profits when people drive ecologically
friendly cars? Do they maximize profits when people carpool"
Do they maximize profits when people opt for alternative fuels?
The maximization of oil company profits happens when we are
WASTEFUL. Lowering prices, enhancing supply and subverting
the crisis very well may take "conservation off the table."
This is the wrong thing for America.
Is this more supply-side economics at work? We have an energy
crisis so the Republicans only idea is to go get more. Never
do they think about the demand side of this equation or truly
leadership like policies that will give our grandchildren
safe, clean and productive energy instead of used-up wastelands.
Just the same way big car manufacturers and big oil companies
colluded in the late 1940s to do away with mass transit and
trolley cars in the cities replacing them with oil burning
buses and lobbied for more sprawling roads to feed their insatiable
greed, the archaic colluding behemoth known as big oil/big
car is as frisky in their relentless desire to purge what
they can for corporate profits in this day and age of "compassionate
In the end, this argument isn't really about a cold and dark
refuge in northern Alaska, it is about the idea that we must
reign in our arrogance and greed to enhance less narrow-minded
thinking. The Republicans have told us about the wonderful
advances in technology that allows oil companies to drill
much safer (which is essentially a lie, because no drilling
is safe). Why hasn't this technology been applied to creating
safe, yet fuel efficient vehicles? American's aren't stupid.
The initiative, desire and need are there to begin a true
"exploration" toward weaning the American consumer off the
oil nipple. Funny, in over 100 years of fossil fuel burning
which is arguably leading to the death of our planet, very
little real changes have been made. Ultimately, what is best
for our country is when we get to the point when we don't
need to even argue about drilling in places like ANWR. And
this time will eventually come, I promise you that. I just
hope the arguments don't die off because we've taken everything.