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Republican Environmental Awareness

Gretchen K. Aleks

Everyone, by now, is aware that Arnold Schwarzenegger, one of the many candidates trying to replace Gray Davis as governor of California, has, on numerous occasions, touted the Hummer -- which gets around ten to twelve miles per gallon -- even as he claims to be an environmentally-friendly candidate.

Mr. Schwarzenegger has zealously publicized his intention to retrofit one of his six Hummers with hydrogen-powered fuel cells. Less publicized, however, are the dirty tricks that Republicans in Congress are playing in order to ensure that all the other red-blooded, Hummer-owning Americans out there can afford gas to fill up their behemoths.

Right now, the House and Senate are negotiating an energy bill. Each house has already passed its own bill, and now those two versions must be reconciled. When the committee charged with this task successfully fuses the two bills, each house votes on the joint legislation. If this version passes, the bill goes to the president to be signed. Usually when a bill, especially one of this importance, goes to a conference committee, the group assigned to reconcile differences is a bipartisan group of legislators and designated aides. For this bill, however, the Republicans are relegating Democrats to the sidelines, and only talking among themselves. This method clearly subverts the democratic process, but it’s a dangerous move on more than ideological grounds. Republicans on the conference committee are trying to sneak two important provisions into the joint bill that would result in environmental destruction.

The first backhanded provision is one to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. There’s been a lot of talk since Bush was installed about opening up this pristine 19-million acre refuge in Alaska; thanks to foresight on the part of Democrats in the Senate, this hasn’t happened. Each time it has come up for a vote in the Senate -- which it has several times, in both energy bills and budget bills -- the notion has been rejected. The House, on the other hand, is not as sensible and passed, this spring, a provision to allow drilling in the refuge.

So, if you were a Republican, and on the present conference committee, and you weren’t sharing any power, and you had two versions of the bill -- one that allowed drilling and one that did not -- and you had a predisposition to being a litterbug, what would you do? Probably put some language into the bill that allows drilling in the protected land. And, friends, that’s what is happening right now. Oil and gas companies (the same half-baked people who cooked-up Cheney’s original energy plan) are going to be allowed to explore the wildlife refuge if they confine production plants to 2,000 acres.

Two thousand acres doesn’t sound like that much when we’re talking about a nineteen million acre refuge, but let’s keep in mind that nowhere does it say these 2,000 acres need to be contiguous. We can probably ruin most of the protected area just by spacing production facilities reasonably far apart. More importantly, however, is the fact that oil production doesn’t just involve a hole in the ground at one specific site. They’ll have to set up a system of pipes to get any oil out and roads to get the equipment in. Any amount of drilling in the refuge will cause irreparable damage to its pristine ecosystem.

The Republicans, however, are not content to destroy the arctic wildlife refuge; they’re also hell-bent on putting a provision in the bill that would allow more offshore drilling on both coasts. I suppose it makes sense: if you’re willing to kill the caribou, what do a couple dead manatees and fish mean? Many coastal areas are not off limits to drilling, and putting this provision in the bill would open many of these sites to exploitation. The reason that adding this provision would be such an underhanded move is because, unlike the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where at least the House voted to approve drilling, neither the House nor the Senate have approved increases in offshore drilling. In fact, the matter was not even brought to a vote in the Senate.

Clearly Senator Pete Domenici, R-N.M., the chair of the conference committee, and his party cronies are okay with ignoring the wills of elected legislators, and by extension, the American public. Although this type of politicking happens all the time, the significance of this bill and the blatant disregard for standard procedures make this case especially egregious. Luckily, Massachusetts has two senators who are committed to protecting the environment and pushing for sustainable energy options. Kerry has filibustered to protect the refuge in the past, and Democratic leader Tom Daschle has indicated that there will be another filibuster should the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge provision be included in the bill. Students on this campus who would support such an action should contact senators from their home states to encourage them to sustain a filibuster.