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MARCH 19, 2003
3:36 PM
CONTACT:  Sierra Club
David Willett, (202) 675-6698
Senate Scores Critical Victory for Protecting Arctic Refuge
WASHINGTON - March 19 - In a tremendous victory for America's environment, 52 Senators voted to turn back an effort today to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. A bipartisan group of Senators prevailed in safeguarding this national treasure and the native people who depend on it, despite heavy lobbying by the Bush administration and the oil industry. Senators passed an amendment to strip Arctic drilling revenues from the Budget Resolution, marking a pivotal vote in the 25-year fight to protect the Arctic.

The Bush Administration tried to advance Arctic drilling through the complicated budget process by slipping in an assumption of $2.15 billion in expected revenues to the federal treasury from leasing and development of the Arctic Refuge. When the Budget was brought to the floor today, Senators Boxer offered an amendment to strip Arctic drilling revenues from the bill, which prevailed by a vote of 52-48.

"Today's vote is a big victory for America's environment and the American people, and we're thrilled that a strong, bipartisan group of Senators stood up to protect this spectacular landscape," said Carl Pope, Executive Director of the Sierra Club. "Americans consistently voice support for protecting the Arctic, and today the Senate listened by rejecting this backdoor attempt to drill in this special place."

Drilling in the Arctic is the centerpiece of the Bush Administration's energy policy, and drilling proponents have tried to exploit the current geopolitical situation and concerns about rising gas prices to gain support for drilling.

"Americans are concerned about national security, but drilling in the Arctic will do nothing to alleviate these fears," continued Pope. "Arctic drilling would not put a dent in our dependence on foreign oil, would do nothing to strengthen our national security, and would not save consumers a dime. We cannot drill our way to energy independence."

The United States sits on just three percent of the world's known petroleum reserves. Government estimates indicate that there is less than a six month supply of oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and even the oil industry admits it would take ten years to make it to US markets.

"Should we sacrifice the crown jewel of the refuge system for speculative revenue gains and six months of oil?" asked Pope. "Americans overwhelmingly say 'no.' They support protecting the Arctic Refuge, and today their Senators heard them loud and clear."

Senators Boxer (D-CA), Chafee (R-RI) Feingold (D-WI) Snowe (R-ME), Lieberman (D-CT), and Kerry (D-MA) led the winning effort to strip arctic drilling revenues from the Budget Resolution.

"Senators, both Republican and Democrat, stood firm against tremendous pressure from the Bush administration and its allies in the oil industry," said Pope. "We thank them for their steadfast support in fighting to make sure the Refuge is protected, not needlessly plundered. The Arctic Refuge is too valuable to be just another number in the budget process."

A recent National Academy of Sciences report on the cumulative effects of drilling on Alaska's North Slope reaffirmed the devastating impacts that drilling has already caused in the region and provided further evidence that we need to protect the Arctic Refuge. The coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a national treasure--home to polar bears, wolves, and countless migratory birds. The coastal plain is also the birthing grounds for the 129,000-member Porcupine River caribou herd and it is sacred land to the Gwich'in Indians, a native people whose traditional lifestyle depends on the caribou.


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