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An Angry Question: Why Not Drill in Arctic?

Hundreds of angry people, urged on by a right-wing talk show host, called Earthjustice recently to ask why we are challenging plans to drill in Alaska's Arctic Ocean.

Like many Americans, the callers are suffering from gasoline price increases and other costs, like food, that have gone up with the price of oil. They had been led to believe that drilling in Alaska would bring gas prices back down and restore America's place in the world.

But they are victims of yet another cynical attempt to use gas prices for political purposes. The oil industry and its political allies hope to manipulate consumer pain to rile up political support for drilling oil any place it can be found.

An even more blatant political use of gas prices is the proposal for a gas tax "holiday" this summer. As The New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman pointed out, if we take the holiday, by the end of the summer "we will have increased our debt to China, increased our transfer of wealth to Saudi Arabia and increased our contribution to global warming for our kids to inherit."

So what's the real picture on gas prices and oil drilling in the Alaskan Arctic? Oil is priced in a global market, with supply constrained by a cartel of oil-producing nations, conflict and war in many of those nations, and shrinking global reserves.

Demand is driven largely by the energy squandering of the United States and by the rapidly growing economies of China and India. These forces, along with investor speculation, will continue to drive prices up.

Drilling in Alaska won't change this equation.

For example, government projections of oil production in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge peg the region's supply at less than one-half of one percent of global production. Yet George Bush, Dick Cheney, and their radio talk show mouthpieces keep trumpeting the Arctic as the big solution to our energy woes.

We need a strong, sustainable energy policy to move us away from our oil-dependence, not a rush to drill every last place on earth.

We must shift the billions in tax breaks for oil into incentives for deploying the wide range of clean energy strategies that are being blocked by the president and oil state senators at every turn. Just this week, a Department of Energy report estimated that wind alone could provide 20 percent of our electricity by 2030 and create 500,000 jobs. But, wind energy projects can't find investors, while oil companies have record profits.

We need aggressive fuel efficiency standards, funding for transit and clean energy research, and development funding that is driven by the same urgency we brought to the Manhattan Project and the space race.

While we work to put a sensible energy policy in place, Earthjustice will bring the cases that hold the line on energy development in some of the planet's most special places, stop the most polluting energy practices, force the government to adopt overdue efficiency standards, and tilt the energy playing field away from fossil fuels and toward conservation, efficiency, and renewables.

This, not drilling everywhere at all costs, is the future on which jobs, prosperity, and healthy communities depend.

Tags:  Arctic