Skip to main content /POLITICS

Bill Press is a syndicated columnist, CNN political commentator and author of the newly-published book Spin This!

Bill Press: Instant science behind Bush energy policy

By Bill Press
Tribune Media Services

WASHINGTON (Tribune Media Services) -- What do you do if a scientific report raises serious questions about proposed public policy?

If you're an honest, open-minded public official, interested only in what's best for the republic, you pause, consider the information carefully, re-examine your basic assumptions -- and maybe even admit you're wrong and change directions.

If you're a member of the Bush administration, interested only in what's best for the oil and gas industry, you simply ignore the facts -- and order up another instant study that agrees with your preconceived notions.

On the issue of drilling for oil in the Arctic Refuge, that's just what Bush's Interior Department did this week. For 12 years, scientists collected data on the impact of oil exploration on wildlife, especially the unique Porcupine caribou herd, which migrates to the Arctic Refuge to bear and raise its calves.

The final report, issued last week by the U.S. Geological Survey, was devastating. Scientists examined five different drilling scenarios. All five, they concluded, would adversely impact the native habitat of musk oxen, snow geese, polar bears and caribou -- three of them, seriously.

The USGS report contradicted congressional testimony of Interior Secretary Gale Norton that drilling would have absolutely no effect on caribou. It also repudiated the ludicrous campaign promise of President Bush that oil companies could move men and equipment onto the Arctic slope and take the oil out "without leaving a footprint."

Faced with such damning evidence, what did Norton do? Tell Bush and Cheney to do the right thing and scuttle Arctic drilling plans? Go back to Congress and admit she was wrong? Resign? Of course not. She did just what George Bush did when scientists told him that global warming was real and he was wrong. Bush never lets facts get in the way of his fairy tales. Handed science he doesn't like, Bush goes out and buys science he can.

So, the very day the first USGS report was released, Secretary Norton, no doubt acting under orders from the White House, ordered the same scientists to come up with another set of conclusions. Just seven days later --mirabile dictu -- they said there would be no negative impact on wildlife from drilling in the Arctic.

You decide. One study result was based on scientific observation over 12 years; the other, rushed through in seven days. One was driven by pure science; the other, by pure politics. Which one would you believe? Bush and Norton are wasting their time trying to convince the rest of us that drilling is environmentally safe. We know it's not.

But there's a much more practical reason to abandon plans for turning the Arctic Refuge into the next oil rush town: There's simply not enough oil to make it worthwhile.

According to oil industry estimates, economically recoverable crude from full production of the Arctic Refuge would take 10 years to develop -- and, even then, would provide only a six- to eight-month supply of fossil fuels for the United States. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham himself projects at best a 12-month maximum supply. And that same amount of energy could be supplied -- immediately -- by a mere increase of 3 miles per gallon in the fuel efficiency of American cars.

The answer to America's energy needs lies in Detroit, not Alaska. This is why several oil companies, led by British Petroleum, have already announced they are no longer interested in exploring the Arctic Refuge. It will take too long, it will yield too little oil, and it will be tied up too long in costly litigation. For the long term, these companies have set their sights instead on the Gulf of Mexico and the Caspian Sea.

Still, ignoring all evidence to the contrary, Bush and Cheney persist in making the Arctic Refuge their energy pipe dream. It defies both science and common sense. And it's an outrage to the memory of a much more far-sighted president.

In 1956, President Eisenhower, while opening 95 percent of the Alaskan slope to oil development, set aside 5 percent as permanent, protected wilderness. Most Americans will never go there, but Ike wanted us to know that, somewhere, there existed a stretch of Alaskan tundra just the way God made it, unscarred by human activity.

That's the Arctic refuge. That's the last American wilderness. That's the legacy of President Eisenhower. That's what George Bush and Dick Cheney, needlessly, want to destroy. Shame.




Back to the top