Sierran Masthead

Bayh Votes to Protect Arctic Refuge

In a big victory for America’s environment, 54 senators—including Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, rejected a proposal to open the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. Sen. Richard Luger of Indiana was in the minority of senators who voted in favor of the drilling.

This vote was a stinging rebuke for one of the Bush administration’s top domestic priorities. The victory is a testament to tremendous outpouring of grassroots activism in support of protecting the Arctic Refuge. The Sierra Club’s grassroots network kicked into high gear across the country, educating neighbors and the press and writing, calling, and meeting with their senators.

With the Sierra Club turning up the heat back home, the Senate Democratic leadership was able to prevail in safeguarding this national treasure despite heavy lobbying by the Bush administration and the oil industry.

The coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a national treasure—home to polar bears, wolves, and countless migratory birds. The coastal plain is also the birthing grounds for the 129,000-member Porcupine River caribou herd, and it is sacred land to the Gwich’in Indians, a native people whose traditional lifestyle depends on the caribou.

Arctic drilling will do nothing to reduce our dependence on foreign oil or increase our national security. Government estimates indicate that there is less than a six-month supply of oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Even the oil industry admits it would take 10 years for the oil to make it to U.S. markets.

While the Senate staved off attempts to include Arctic Refuge drilling in its version of an energy bill, the House version is dramatically worse and includes a drilling provision. This discrepancy will have to be reconciled in a conference committee. So though we have one victory under our belt, it is possible that the conference may produce a bill with an Arctic drilling provision back in.

Despite the Senate’s rejection of Arctic Refuge drilling, the Sierra Club cannot support the bill in its current form. While the Senate energy bill began as a promising plan, polluters plundered the bill. Now the Senate bill utterly fails to meet America’s energy needs, and instead sends America backward.

The Senate bill saves virtually no oil; hardly increases renewable energy; eliminates safeguards that protect consumers from Enron-like manipulations; and gives billions of dollars in subsidies to dirty coal and oil, and dangerous nuclear power. Sierra Club activists around the country can applaud their senators who voted to protect the arctic refuge from drilling. Members can urge their senators to fend off future attacks on the Arctic and reject this inadequate energy bill should it emerge from the conference without dramatic changes.

The Sierra Club's national office has the latest information on the Arctic Refuge.

Copyright © 2007 Hoosier Chapter Sierra Club, all rights reserved.[7/1/02]efp

Summer 2002