The Ends of the Earth

Drilling for oil offshore, or in the northernmost reaches of Alaska, have been the kinds of environmental battles guaranteed never to end.  President Bush has proposed opening the outer continental shelf, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska -- and the dirty little secret is that both issues have been stalemated for decades.

Mr. Bush, in the Rose Garden today: "If congressional leaders leave for the Fourth of July recess without taking action, they will need to explain why $4-a-gallon gasoline is not enough incentive for them to act.  And Americans will rightly ask how high oil -- how high gas prices have to rise before the Democratic-controlled Congress will do something about it." His full text is HERE.

The Alaska Wilderness League retorts that opening the Arctic Refuge now would make little difference -- and says Mr. Bush should know this because the Energy Department has told him so.  "At peak production, two decades from now, the amount of oil speculated to be available in the Refuge would lower gas prices by less than four cents a gallon. Basically, the President wants to destroy one of our last pristine, wilderness places to save us a few pennies, 20 years from now," says the league's Cindy Shogan.

The same arguments have been used since the refuge was created.  Jimmy Carter was in the White House at the time. 

"It's a red herring to say we need to drill more," said Rep. Ed Perlmutter, a Colorado Democrat, on the House floor. "It's available. What we really need to do is get off the addiction to oil."

In fairness, the President says he agrees: "In the long run, the solution is to reduce demand for oil by promoting alternative energy technologies. My administration has worked with Congress to invest in gas-saving technologies like advanced batteries and hydrogen fuel cells," he said. "In the short run, the American economy will continue to rely largely on oil."

But leaving aside whether the drilling he proposes would help, would it happen any time soon? 

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