Energy and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

By Policy Director Jim DiPeso

AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: This March 17, 2001 letter to Republican senators and representatives was written by Jim DiPeso and signed by President Martha Marks


Dear Senator/Representative:

The concurrence of the debates about a national energy policy and protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a great opportunity for our Republican Party. The time and circumstances are right for Republicans to secure America’s energy future and demonstrate that we are still the party of Theodore Roosevelt.

The American people deserve and need a real national energy policy. We deserve and need natural treasures like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. We can have both.

The answer lies in a national energy policy whose cornerstones are efficiency, conservation and the energy technologies of bountiful alternative fuels; and not a short-sighted, pointless and politically damaging fight over risking harm to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. We should provide permanent wilderness protection for the Refuge, secure the blessings of America’s great natural heritage for generations to come and boldly move this nation forward towards true energy security for the coming century.

Conservatives should be objective and think long-term. Any reasoned and responsible national energy policy cannot avoid one unalterable fact: We will never achieve independence from foreign oil powers as long as we remain so dependent on oil. We could put drilling rigs in every wildlife refuge, national park and wilderness area, and all our other other public lands, and we would never obtain enough oil to claim energy independence. The United States has perhaps 4% of the world’s reserves, yet we continue to consume at least 25% of its oil production. Oil prices are and will always be set by the world markets, which will never be controlled, and hardly influenced, by limited supplies of American oil. 

We will impose tremendous costs and risks on our economy, taxpayers and military as long as our national welfare is tied to oil. Patriotism demands that we do all we can individually and as a nation to strive for real energy independence. 

We are living in a time of great advances in energy technology. The Microsoft of tomorrow is most likely an energy technology company. Other nations are moving far faster than we in embracing these new technologies. Iceland, for example, has set an ambitious timetable for being completely free from its dependence on fossil fuels of all types. Iceland knows that the energy source of tomorrow is hydrogen fuel cells, not fossil fuels. German and Japanese engineers are also moving rapidly towards independence from oil, making tremendous strides in increased automotive fuel efficiency. Volkswagen reportedly will be producing in several years a vehicle that gets 234 miles per gallon (no typographical error). We can do the same. By employing the same dedication, commitment and national resolve that helped win World War II and rebuild Europe, America can become a leader in the energy technologies of the future, secure independence from foreign oil powers, and meet our moral obligation to pass on to the next generation a world in better shape than we inherited it.

Energy conservation, particularly automobile fuel efficiency, is the most immediate route to energy independence. Automobiles use most of our imported oil. If we are truly facing an energy crisis, there is no excuse for Congress to continue blocking increased fuel efficiency measures. Fuel efficiency is our most readily available and best weapon system against foreign control of our economy. We should not risk the lives of young American military men and woman to secure foreign oil supplies just so that we can drive inefficient, gas- guzzling vehicles to the grocery store or mall.

Rapid employment of renewable energies is in our nation’s long term interest. No foreign power could hope to affect our energy markets if we were using more wind, solar and geothermal power…all of which are readily available on American soil and cost-effective today. To cure our most pressing energy needs, we should embrace the quickest source of new energy production: wind power. A wind-power farm generating enough energy for 70,000 homes can be put on line in one year from the start of construction. No other energy source at present can match this. Congress also needs to see hydrogen fuel cells as a wise investment for the nation’s future. Rather than continue to subsidize fossil fuels and absorb their related costs (pollution, climate change, health problems and military expenditures to defend foreign supplies), we should shift our investments to new fuels and technologies that make more long-term sense.

With a real, long-term national energy policy in place, we could protect and preserve those national treasures that help make America a great nation. Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is neither a short-term nor a long-term solution to our energy needs, and it is fraught with risks and turmoil. 

For our GOP, especially, it is filled with political danger. Far too many Americans oppose ruining the Refuge to make it a cornerstone of a national energy policy. Republican Senators and Representatives who have publicly stated their opposition to drilling in the Refuge do so with good reasons. They know their constituents oppose ruining our wildlife refuges and other public lands and will exact a price at the polls from elected officials who do not defend those areas. The price that Republicans may pay for forcing this issue is loss of our slim majorities in the House and Senate, which depend on returning Republicans from the Northeast, the very area where public opposition to drilling the Refuge is strongest.

Republicans should seize the opportunity at hand. We can give America a real long-term plan for energy independence while reclaiming the mantle of Theodore Roosevelt by protecting our national treasures, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. We at REP America are tired of seeing Democrats receive all the credit for preserving America’s natural heritage. It’s time for our party to step up and take back leadership on this issue.

Unfortunately, the new GOP energy bill falls far short. In addition to relying on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as its centerpiece (like the center on a bullseye!), it does not set America on the path toward any kind of energy independence. It is merely a fossil-fuel industry bill that perpetuates our unhealthy dependence on oil. Republicans need to do better for America and go to back to the drawing boards. Otherwise, it will be the Democrats who claim in 2002 and 2004 that they are the party with the better ideas on energy.

The second step—which is within reach today—is for Republicans to take the lead in reassuring Americans that they will protect America’s natural treasures, and begin doing so by supporting permanent wilderness protection for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Representative Nancy Johnson, with HR 770, and Senators Jim Jeffords and Lincoln Chafee, with S 411, have wisely taken up this challenge. They are joined in this effort by GOP Representatives Charles Bass, Jim Greenwood, Jim Leach, Rodney Frelinghuysen, Connie Morella, Jim Saxton, Chris Shays and Chris Smith. Their championship of wilderness designation for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is in keeping with the proud tradition of Republican leadership in providing wilderness protection for America’s special wild lands. It was Republican Congressman John Saylor, after all, who co-authored the Wilderness Act of 1964. 

President Dwight D. Eisenhower first protected the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge forty years ago because it is a spectacular and unparalleled national treasure. That has not changed. Nor has the desire of Americans to preserve and protect their natural heritage waned over time. Indeed, Americans are more concerned than ever about the loss of our special places.


So, with this letter, we are urging you today to do two things… 

First, join Representative Johnson and Senators Jeffords and Chafee in supporting wilderness designation for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, as proposed by HR 770 and S 411.

And second, please insist that our party fashion for America a true long-range energy policy that will free us from our dependence on oil and move America forward in embracing the secure, clean and profitable energy technologies of the future. By doing so, our party will reap both praise and political rewards from present and future generations of Americans.

Such a combined achievement would be a legacy worthy of the party of Theodore Roosevelt.


Martha A. Marks, Ph.D.




We encourage you to read Hubbert’s Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage by former Shell Oil geologist Kenneth S. Deffeyes (Princeton University Press, 2001; ISBN 0-6910-9086-6). As Jim DiPeso wrote in recommending this book: “It’s meticulously researched by a man who knows the oil business inside and out. The conclusion is inescapable — we have to start preparing now for the post-petroleum era. There can be no delay.”

Conservatives should conserve, shouldn’t they? (Plenary speech by Martha Marks at the annual convention of the National Association of Environmental Professionals (NAEP), held in Arlington, Virginia on June 25-27, 2001)

Energy security, patriotism, and Roosevelt 101 (Five essays by Jim DiPeso, originally published online by Grist)

Global Climate Change: The Time for Leadership Is Now  (a letter to President George W. Bush, written by Jim DiPeso and signed by REP President Martha Marks)