Mr. President, I rise today to explain my opposition to the Murkowski and Stevens amendments to S. 517, the Energy Reform bill.
Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is not the only solution to our dependence on foreign oil. I am opposed to drilling in the Arctic Refuge because I believe there should be a comprehensive national energy policy.
During the Senate's ongoing consideration of S. 517, I have voted in favor of strengthening Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for SUVs and light trucks. By increasing oil savings, stronger CAFE standards would make us less dependent on foreign fuel and demonstrate a real commitment to conservation. The CAFE amendment failed. I voted in support of increasing the amount of renewable fuels in our energy portfolio. This provision failed. I have also supported tax credits for domestic marginal well production and providing incentives to consumers for purchasing alternative technology vehicles and improving the efficiency of their homes and offices. I am optimistic that these efforts will be successful.
I am prepared to support a national energy policy that balances our energy needs with strong environmental protection. Reducing our dependence on foreign oil is a national priority, but should not come solely at the expense of our nation's precious natural resources.
First established by President Eisenhower in 1960, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was created and later expanded to preserve the area's unique wilderness and wildlife values by protecting fish and wildlife populations in their natural diversity. The 1.5 million acres of the Refuge's coastal plain proposed for oil exploration and drilling, known as the ``1002'' area, is the most biologically productive part of the Refuge. The coastal plain is home to a diverse collection of wildlife including polar and grizzly bear populations, musk oxen, 180 bird species, and one of the largest caribou herds in North America.
Each year, the Porcupine Caribou herd--over 129,000 members strong--migrates 400 miles from wintering grounds in the north central Canadian Yukon to the Arctic Refuge coastal plain where they give birth to their young. In a typical year, the herd can birth up to 40-50,000 calves.
The importance of the Porcupine Caribou herd can best be illustrated by a 1987 Conservation Agreement between the Governments of Canada and the United States. The Agreement recognizes the value of the Porcupine herd and the importance of protecting their birthing grounds to ensure the future sustainability of the population as a vital part of the Refuge's ecological system. In Canada, land north of the Porcupine River was withdrawn from development in 1978. Oil exploration and drilling in the Porcupine Caribou herd's prime calving grounds remains an item of contention between the United States and Canada and threatens the future of the Conservation Agreement.
I am prepared to support a national energy policy that balances our energy needs with strong environmental protection. Reducing our dependence on foreign oil is a national priority, but should not come at the expense of our nation's precious natural resources. Allowing oil and gas development in the coastal plain promises only short-term benefits that may irreparably damage the wildlife values and unique vitality of the Arctic Refuge.
Opening the Arctic Refuge to oil exploration and drilling should not be the primary component of the effort to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. There are other steps we should take that would provide more benefits in the long term.
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