Now that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has threatened to cut oil exports for 30 days to protest Israel's military presence in Palestinian territories, the U.S. Senate has urgent reason to vote in favor of drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
It's a "national security imperative," Chuck Brooks of the American Jewish Council told Reuters News Service as the reason his group switched its position and now supports drilling in ANWR. More domestic oil means greater American energy independence.
Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, added that since Hussein helps pay Palestinian suicide bombers $25,000 each, "Each time an American goes to the gas pump, he is funding indirectly the suicide bombers." While the exact amount of oil in ANWR is not known, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said that ANWR production "could replace more than 35 years of Iraqi oil imports."
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., told The Washington Times, "If the events of today don't sway people, they never will be swayed." She opposes Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's efforts to kill the measure -- which the House had the good sense to pass in August -- most likely by using Senate rules to keep it from a floor vote.
Besides, the old reasons to oppose drilling in ANWR don't work.
Tree-huggers invoke ANWR's caribou as a reason not to drill on what they call "America's Serengeti" -- a phrase that fits ANWR primarily because most Americans are as unlikely to visit ANWR as they are to visit the African plains.
Enviros point to a March study by the U.S. Geological Survey that found "oil development will most likely result in restricting the location of concentrated calving areas, calving sites and annual calving grounds." The New York Times reported that the study undercut President Bush's case for drilling in ANWR.
There are two things you should know about that report. First, it wasn't as damaging as some reported it to be. As The Washington Post noted, the report "argued that the effects of drilling could be minimal if conducted in a sensitive manner over a limited area. Two of its five scenarios for caribou showed negligible effects."
What's more, the study was based on what USGS Director Charles G. Groat called "five different fictional development scenarios." Because none of those scenarios reflected what the House passed, Groat -- a Clinton appointee -- called for a study on how the House scenario would affect caribou, based on existing data.
Partisans dismissed the new study as an effort to rewrite the scientific data to help Bush. Easy for them to say -- because they ignored the fact that the other scenarios were, as Groat wrote, fictional.
Oh, but the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is so pristine.
I'm sure it is -- and so most of its 19 million acres would remain if the Senate passed an amendment similar to the House measure. (The House calls for development on no more than 2,000 acres.)
Besides, Americans who truly care about the planet ought to prefer highly regulated drilling in Alaska to under-regulated drilling in foreign lands.
A recent Senate vote -- that passed 62 to 38 -- not to raise car fuel-efficiency standards means that Senate Dems failed to curb U.S. oil demand. If the Senate won't curb demand, it should at least boost supply.
After all, didn't Daschle say, "Americans need -- and deserve -- an energy plan that truly moves us toward energy independence."
But politics trump logic. Some GOP staffers believe that the Senate's lack of spine on fuel efficiency makes it harder for Democrats to vote for ANWR drilling. After all, supporting ANWR drilling would require casting a second vote against enviros.
The national interest, however, ought to prompt senators to do what's right.
If the Senate votes to drill in ANWR, that vote would send a chill through the oil-producing world. A pro-drilling vote would undermine Hussein with the leaders of oil-rich Muslim countries. The Saudis wouldn't be so brazen in their tolerance of terrorism.
And that ain't caribou.