Democratic Underground

All They See is Oil, Gas, and Timber
August 4, 2001
by 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 to).

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 acres?

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 conscience either.

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 Conservatism."

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.

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