ANWR Hearing Spurs Fiery Remarks

Video by C-SPAN: See Rep. Don Young’s exchange with Dr. Douglas Brinkley starting at 31:00.

As Congress struggles to find ways to bring down the national debt, Republicans in the House are offering a plan:  increase oil and gas production to pay for repairs to America’s highways and jump-start the economy.  Part of that includes opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to development.  A House Committee held two hearings Friday in Washington on drilling in Alaska.  It was a familiar litany of arguments, but also had some fireworks.

Colorado Republican Congressman Doug Lamborn opened up Friday morning’s hearing on Republican oil and gas bills by saying this is a way to get people working.

“Americans are desperate for new jobs, and blue collar workers in our trade have been particularly hard-hit by the economic downturn.  Critics will say these bills are a give away to oil industry.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  These bills are designed to open lands to create opportunity,” Lamborn said.

A quartet of Republican bills includes one to open the Arctic Refuge, or ANWR, to drilling.  Money they generate would go toward the Highway Trust Fund to pay for America’s infrastructure projects.  But Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey, a well-known opponent of Arctic drilling, says Republicans are over-selling their plan.

“The four bills we are considering today would only generate 1/15th of revenue we’d need to fund transportation projects for the next six years.  These bills would leave us 70 billion dollars short of funding our transportation projects over that time,” Markey said.

Markey says instead, support a plan by Democrats to ratchet-back the subsidies oil and gas companies get.  He says it would save $19 billion in 10 years.

The renewed push to drill in ANWR comes as Congress battles desperately over ways to save money or gain new revenues.  But even though the atmosphere may be new, the arguments are familiar.  At Friday afternoon’s hearing Congressman Don Young voiced the feelings of many.

“I will tell you, if you ever want to see an exercise in futility it’s this hearing.  That side’s made up its mind, this side has already made up its mind,” Young said.

Congressman Young has been fighting to open ANWR for decades, and doesn’t have patience for people who disagree with him.  From his seat on the House Natural Resources Committee dais, he often yells at witnesses with differing opinions, especially environmentalists.  But on Friday afternoon when he tried to chastise one witness, the witness fought back.  Young criticized the position of Douglas Brinkley, a well-known historian and professor at Rice University in Texas.  Brinkley is against drilling in the Arctic Refuge and wrote a book about the wilderness battles in Alaska.  When Young started to bash the position of drilling opponents, Brinkley cut him off.

Young: And the I call it garbage Dr. Rice… Brinkley: It’s Dr. Brinkley. Rice is a university. I know you went to college and didn’t graduate. Young: I’ll call you anything when you sit in that chair.  You just be quiet.  Brinkley: Why?  You don’t own me.  I pay your salary. I work for the private sector, you work for the taxpayer.”

Brinkley knocked the Congressman’s education while Young ordered him to be quiet.  Brinkley says he’s been camping in the Arctic Refuge, but Young mocked him for that and accused him of being elitist.

Young: Now I have been all over that area.  Brinkley: I know you have. Young: The Arctic plain is really nothing.  You say it’s the heart, it’s not the heart. Brinkley: I disagree with that.  Young:It’s part of the most deficit (sic) part of the area.  And what hurts me the most, you sit there in the Rice University, when the people support drilling for their good and the good of the nation, as a college professor and ivory tower.  You can go up there and camp and spend your time and I hope you spent a lot of money.  But the reality is this area should be drilled.  I’ve been fighting this battle for 39 years.”

The fighting on Friday though was in the House hearing room.  Douglas Brinkley criticized Young for not sitting through the whole hearing and showing up late.  Young was furious, saying he’d missed the start of the hearing because he had to vote on the floor.

Young often comes and goes at hearings, and he left before Friday afternoon’s was over.  Brinkley took aim again at his absence and disagreed with Young’s claim that the late former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens helped create ANWR for development.

“This was a misstatement made by the congressman who yet again left, doesn’t stay, blows smoke and leaves, but Ted Stevens had been for the creation of ANWR in 1960.  Ted Stevens was a lawyer for the creation of the Arctic, it’s only when oil was found there that he wanted to…,” Brinkley said.

The rest of Friday’s testimony was less dramatic, but very familiar.  Gwich’in Athabascan activist Sarah James of Arctic Village testified in favor of protecting the refuge, as did environmentalists from national organizations.  At the earlier, first hearing, pro-drilling witnesses included Tara Sweeney, a senior vice president at the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation and Mark Helmericks of Colville Village who wants more oil industry jobs.

Familiar arguments, Alaskan faces, and new heat over an old question:  what to do about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

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