U.S. Republicans choose greed over human quality-of-survival in Arctic drilling
Compiled by The Canadian staff
The Government of Canada has joined U.S. environmentalists and native groups in a last-ditch effort to stop the US Congress from opening up Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.
Emboldened by hurricane Katrina and the recent oil price spike, Republican leaders in Congress have vowed to pass legislation within weeks to allow greed-driven oil companies into the vast wilderness, nestled between the Beaufort Sea and Yukon border.
Opponents of the plan rallied outside the Capitol Building in Washington yesterday to call attention to what they say is a "stealth" plan to sanction drilling against the wishes of most Americans.
"Everything is on the line in these final weeks of this Congress," Ed Markey, a U.S.. Democratic congressman from Massachusetts, told a gathering of several thousand anti-drilling activists, bused in from across the United States.
Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton complained that Republicans are using Katrina as a pretext, knowing it will take seven to 12 years to pump oil in the area.
"It makes no sense to respond to a disaster in the Gulf by making a disaster in Alaska," she said.
Under a 1987 agreement, Canada and the United States pledged to not to do anything that would endanger the Porcupine caribou herd, which migrates across the border, winding up in Alaska in late spring to calve.
In a letter to Richard Lugar, chairman of the U.S. Senate foreign relations committee, Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew urged the United States to abide by the agreement and protect the herd.
"This disaster is being used by some to promote the development of petroleum resources in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, using energy security as their rationale," Mr. Pettigrew said in the letter, posted last night on the Canadian embassy website. "The minimal oil resources in the Arctic Refuge will not make a timely or significant contribution to U.S. energy supplies."
The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives voted this year to insert the drilling provision into the annual budget bill. That denies opponents the ability to filibuster the bill, while forcing them to vote down the entire federal budget, including money for homeland security, the war in Iraq and hurricane relief.
House and Senate leaders said they intend to reconcile their two budget bills by Oct. 26, and then immediately put the package to a final vote. Canada has fought since the mid-1980's to block the United States from opening the coastal plain of the refuge, arguing that the area is part of the migrating caribou herd's breeding grounds.
Ottawa has stepped up lobbying efforts in recent weeks, pressing the issue in meetings with White House officials and in letters to key congressional leaders.
"Canada clearly gets it," Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee told the crowd. "This is important for our international relations."
Larry Bagnell, a Yukon MP and parliamentary secretary to federal Natural Resources Minister John Efford, said he came to Washington to remind members of Congress that the caribou are a "shared resource," protected by international agreement.
Mr. Bagnell suggested that Ottawa is exploring various legal moves to make sure the United States abides by the agreement.
The Government of Canada which had lined the softwood lumber dispute with Canadian energy exports, should also consider linking Canadian energy exports to the United States, with not engaging in reckless oil drilling in Alaska. Such activities would violates the human rights of aboriginal peoples, and further threaten vital Arctic ecosystems.
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