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Conservation IssuesDéjà vu All Over Again
Pat Sziber

Déjà vu All Over Again
Pat Sziber

The 107th Congress adjourned before the holidays with a plateful of unfinished business. That means when they reconvened on January 7th as the 108th Congress, with some new members in the House and a shift of power in the Senate, any bills left hanging would have to be reintroduced. Our good friends in the House of Representatives got a jump-start in early December circulating a sign-on letter in preparation for reintroduction of the Morris K. Udall Wilderness Act, which would designate almost 1.6 million acres of the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for full wilderness protection, which would mean no drilling.

The Refuge's coastal tundra provides America's only land denning habitat for polar bears. 42% of the on-land polar bear dens were dug within the Refuge's coastal plain between 1981 and 2000. Polar bears with newborn cubs are especially sensitive to human activity and can be prematurely displaced from their winter dens by the noise, vibration and human disturbance created by seismic oil exploration. Early den abandonment can be fatal to cubs. Also, ANWR is the summer home to millions of birds. Over 130 species travel to the coastal plain to breed and feed. Many of America's golden eagles, which are also particularly sensitive to human activity, summer at ANWR.

But dark clouds are gathering on the horizon. During the 107th, proponents of drilling the Arctic worked tirelessly to include provisions to drill in a variety of legislative vehicles, including the budget process, energy legislation, the Railroad Retirement Bill, the Defense Authorization Bill, anti-human cloning legislation (!!!) and an aviation security bill. Due to intense pressure by the Administration and the Teamsters, the House approved an Arctic drilling provision in the Energy Bill in August, which left the fate of the Refuge in the hands of the Senate. However, talks broke down in Conference Committee and the legislation was scrapped. Back to square one.

In the 108th Congress, advocates fro drilling will continue their drive to open the Arctic Refuge to oil and gas exploration. The incoming chair of the Senate Energy Committee, Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) has made it clear that the new Energy Bill will include drilling. Sen. Stevens of Alaska has stated that opening the Refuge to drilling would be his number one priority this year and attacked environmentalists for standing in his way. In the House, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-CT), who will introduce the Udall Bill, and Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT) and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) have pledged to stop any attempt to drill in the Arctic Refuge.

What you can do: Get a jump on supporting the Markey/Johnson Bill. Learn more about this issue and send a prepared message to your Representative directly from www.alaskawild.org. Audubon's special website, www.protectthearctic.com, also has plenty of information on the Arctic and a direct link for sending a message to Congress.



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Last revision: Tuesday, February 04, 2003