Senate Floor Debate on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

A speech given by Senator Barbara Boxer on March 16, 2005

I want to thank Senator Cantwell for her wonderful leadership on this issue.

You know, I sit here, and I'm listening to the debate. Of course, we've been involved in it so many times that now I know why Christie Todd Whitman wrote her book,"It's My Party, Too." Because when you look at who set aside the Alaska Wildlife Refuge, it was a Republican president.
And here, the biggest forces for opening up drilling coming from the Republican Party.

Fervor about how this is going to solve our energy problems when everyone admits if we get any oil out of there at all, it's not going to be for ten years. And the economically recoverable oil is six months,... maybe. So the zealotry that we hear shows the change in the Republican Party. And that's a fact of life.

Now, let's see what President Eisenhower's Secretary of Interior, Fred Seaton, said about this area. He said it was one of the most magnificent wildlife and wilderness areas in North America. A wilderness experience not duplicated elsewhere. Senator George Allen called it the "dark side of the moon." So who's right? President Eisenhower or Senator Allen.

So, let's take a look at some of the photographs here. Because, you know, we need to see this "dark side of the moon."

The first thing we see here is the porcupine caribou herd; the mother and the little calf. Quite beautiful. Doesn't look much like the "dark side of the moon" to me. The U.S. Geological Survey Biological Resource Division found that the porcupine caribou herd may be particularly sensitive to oil development. Let's look at the fact that the caribou -- the effects on caribou will impact other animals including bears.

Let's look at -- my favorite is this polar bear photograph that was taken by a wonderful photographer who spent 18 months in the Wildlife Refuge. Doesn't much look like the "dark side of the moon" to me. And polar bears there are particularly sensitive to oil development because they den in the winter exactly the time the oil companies want to drill.

Millions of migratory birds -- over 130 species -- they journey to our states. So, our states will be impacted.

To me, this is a God-given environment. And with all the talk about faith-based politics, I think if you do believe, as I do, that these are gifts, then I think we have to be careful of what we're doing here today.

Now, my friend from Alaska says we're going to do this very sensitively. Well, they were very sensitive at the Exxon Valdez. They were very sensitive in Santa Barbara, when we had this unbelievable oil spill that led to actually the very first Earth Day. It was so devastating to see what happens.

Now, we know that the economic activity that comes from oil drilling is going to have an impact. So, anyone who tells you anything else simply is just thinking in a wishful fashion. We're alive today. We see what happens with these spills. Let's be careful what we're doing. If this is something that is going to make us energy independent, that's one thing. But the fact of the matter is, it won't.

Let's look at some of the scenes, because there was talk about how barren this area is. Outside of the animals let's just look at some of the landscapes, because I think it's important to take a look at this and decide for ourselves if it's worth risking this for six months worth of oil.

This is along Marsh Creek in the coastal plain, and in the very area they say is completely barren. One of my colleagues said, well it only looks that way for a few weeks. Well, it certainly looks that way at a point in time. When I sent my environmental legislative assistant up to that area, she was overcome. When I went to Alaska, it's true there are other magnificent areas of Alaska, but this is one of those beautiful areas.

Now here is the issue: the oil companies are backing out. They don't want to be involved in this controversial area. Many of them have already backed out BP, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, Texaco. They've pulled out because they know what they're walking into here. If they don't want to drill there and it may be that even if we get this vote, no one will go drill there -- we're not sure of that -- why is this happening?

I say it's happening because if they can open this area up, they can open any area up. And don't take my word for it. You can take the Bush Administration's word for it. That's what they've said in essence. They admit it.

Excuse me? Did you say something to me, Mr. President?

[The presiding officer: The Senator from California's time has expired.]

I would ask for two minutes off the resolution, if I could? Two more minutes off the resolution.

[The presiding officer: Is there an objection?]

Then thirty seconds or a minute just to finish up.

[Mr.Conrad: Let me alert my colleagues what the time situation is. I gave ten minutes off the resolution to Senator Cantwell to control, to even up the two sides. Because we're -- now here is the problem. I've only got three minutes left on the resolution before the one o'clock vote. I would be happy to give the Senator from California one of those three minutes.]

I really appreciate it.

Here is the point.: this area was set aside by a Republican President who found it to be most pristine. We understand there are certain times in this United States Senate, when we do something as radical as this, which is to open up a wildlife refuge, you may want to have a few more votes. That's kind of the rules of the Senate. So what they're doing is a back door. So, they may get 51 votes here. Fifty-one votes, they open this up.
for what? For maybe six months of oil.

If we close the SUV loophole -- we said SUV's over time should get the same amount of mileage as cars -- we'd have seven ANWR fields over 40-50 years.

So, we don't need to do this. If you believe as I do that this is God-given land, then let's protect it. Because, at the end of the day that's our job. So, I hope that we will get the votes. If we don't get them today, I think this will be a big issue out in the country-side. I hope the oil companies will continue to walk away from this because clearly it's very controversial to go into this pristine area.

Thank you very much and I yield the floor.