Protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

By EVAN RICE, REP’s Minnesota State Coordinator

AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: Evan made this statement at the office of Senator Norman Coleman, St. Paul, Minnesota; September 27, 2005


Good morning to you, and thank you for being here with us on this exquisite, crisp, Minnesota fall morning.

My name is Evan Rice, and I’m here today in my capacity as the Minnesota state coordinator for Republicans for Environmental Protection. You have heard already today from three leaders, each arguing against drilling in, and for the continued preservation of, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, each articulating, in their own distinct way, powerful reasons for maintaining the Refuge as it’s been protected for the last half century:

  • New drilling in the Arctic fails to make our nation less dependent on foreign oil or reduce fuel costs in any meaningful way;
  • New drilling in the Arctic runs contrary to the will (and the long-term interests) of the vast majority of Americans, and Minnesotans, I may add; and
  • New drilling in the Arctic is counter to our shared ethical and moral obligation to preserve the earthly endowment that our Creator bestowed upon us.

My message today is, I hope, no less important. For I’m here today as a Minnesotan, as a Republican, and as a constituent, to ask Senator Coleman, most respectfully, to simply uphold his campaign promise to our state.

Let me take this tack, unusual in our times, and offer some praise of and encouragement for Senator Coleman. I want take this opportunity to thank the senator for his ongoing leadership and representation. In three short years, he has accomplished a great deal that he and Minnesota can be proud of. As a Republican, a supporter, and an environmentalist, I also want to take this opportunity to let him know that I appreciate and applaud his continuing efforts to address a number of sensible solutions to the serious energy challenges we face as a nation. In particular, his initiatives to promote renewable energy and Minnesota-grown bio-fuels have been important (if still incomplete) steps toward both a sustainable national energy policy and a prosperous farm economy.

In addition, many of us have been heartened by Senator Coleman’s past opposition to the proposed opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And in that sense, I appreciate that he has taken some tentative steps to honor the pledge he made to us in 2002.
Nevertheless, as we’ve heard, the country is now faced with a plainly surreptitious attempt to open the Refuge to oil exploration and exploitation, by slipping the provisions Senator Coleman has previously vowed to fight into the budget reconciliation bill. This tactic — ostensibly justified to the American public by false and fatuous promises of prospective energy security — is a clear attempt to circumvent the full, fair and open debate afforded by the normal legislative process. This backdoor attempt to ram through such an important change in our country’s long-term conservation policy – one with such lasting environmental consequences – is, in my opinion, invertebrate, and plainly wrong. The costs of drilling in the Arctic and the benefits of preservation deserve a full airing, in clear light of day, by a straight up-or-down vote on the merits. We, as Republicans, must be principled enough not to deny to others what we’ve demanded for ourselves – and, not to be too oblique, I’m referring now to our party’s demand –a correct one — in other contexts (such as judicial confirmations) that procedural shenanigans not be used to evade facing important issues directly. But in short, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

I also understand and recognize, of course, that this tactic places Senator Coleman in the difficult position of determining how to vote on a budget bill that includes other important priorities. But these ostensibly competing priorities are not mutually exclusive. We can both preserve the Arctic and aggressively develop alternative bio-energy resources. In fact, I submit to you that such policies are in fact mutually reinforcing, and those who say otherwise have it wrong.

So, Senator, I ask today . . . WE ask today . . . that you step forward and lead. Take the lead now to oppose drilling in the Refuge.

To do otherwise merely perpetuates the depletion of our remaining oil reserves, without any meaningful impact on our foreign oil dependency, while distracting us from and delaying the sensible, achievable shift away from oil that is urgently needed to improve America’s strategic position in the world and secure its economic prosperity.

To do otherwise would override the clear will of Minnesotans and reverse nearly five decades of national policy — initiated by President Eisenhower and perpetuated by four other Republican Presidents — protecting the wildest and most biologically rich corner of the American Arctic.

And finally, to do otherwise in this back-door manner sets a dangerous precedent that threatens to erode the protection currently provided to many other national treasures, including our own beloved Boundary Waters, and potentially undermines our party’s more general moral authority with clear hypocrisy.

In short, opening the Refuge to drilling is simply not in the best interests of our country or our party.

I thank you again for your campaign promise to protect the Refuge, your past votes against drilling, and your desire to see us embark on more sensible energy solutions that work to enhance our national and economic security.

But I also tell you this: If our nation makes the wrong energy and conservation choices at this critical juncture, the consequences will be felt by future generations — and so too will the political consequences by those who have failed them.