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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Energy Policy

Air Date: Week of

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Living on Earth's Anna Solomon-Greenbaum reports on how the terrorist attacks could affect energy policy on Capitol Hill.


CURWOOD: On Capital Hill, almost everything has been put aside. Campaign finance reform, disputes over clean air regulations, debates of all sorts are on hold. Lawmakers want the world to see a united Congress. They're doing their best to shelve partisan bickering. Still, there are some divisive issues that need to be decided. As Living on Earth's Anna Solomon-Greenbaum reports, energy policy debates will be among the early tests of cordiality on Capital Hill.

CRAIG: I believe that energy is every bit as much a security issue as is heightening the ability of the CIA.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Republican Senator Larry Craig of Idaho is among a growing number of lawmakers who say it's now more urgent than ever to reverse the nation's growing dependence on foreign oil.

CRAIG: If we became involved in a military activity in the Middle East that disrupted the flow of oil coming out of the Middle East to us and to the rest of the world, our economy could well collapse.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: How to reach energy independence is the thornier question. And it's being raised even during the current congressional truce. The difference now is that there's more fuel for the fire.

CRAIG: Right now, my guess is that every citizen of New York is a little more concerned about their personal safety than they are about the environment on the north slope of Alaska.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: The reference, of course, is to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and the sharp conflict over whether or not to drill there and on other public lands throughout the nation. Senator Craig is on the Energy Committee that was scheduled to wrangle over the issue later this month. For now, those meetings have been postponed and nobody is in the mood for a showdown. Most lawmakers are speaking hesitantly, careful not to seem opportunistic in the face of tragedy. But divisions remain beneath the veneer of unity. Democratic Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts says anyone using the terrorist attacks to advance the ANWR agenda is exploiting the situation. And Senator Kerry says he remains committed to filibuster any attempts to allow drilling in ANWR.

KERRY: There wouldn't be an ounce of oil that comes out of there for five years to ten years. It has no impact at all in the moment.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Kerry says a better way to reduce our dependence on foreign oil is to develop a new energy base.

KERRY: And the way you do that is by encouraging alternatives and renewables, conservation, efficiencies..."

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: So, in a sense, we're back where we began, before the attacks. Only now, when it comes to energy, the focus isn't on climate or particulates or on the needs of a particular industry. It's on making sure the nation has the oil it needs. And even environmental lobbyists admit, the last thing on anyone's mind right now are baby caribou. In one day, national security has eclipsed every other concern.

Adam Sieminski, an oil strategist with Deutsche Bank, says it's natural for people to think terrorism, the Middle East, oil. But he says connecting those dots isn't necessarily instructive.

SIEMINSKI: This particular crisis, even though people are making a connection to oil, so far doesn't involve oil. We haven't had a supply interruption. In fact, the impact of the terrorist activities may result in dramatically slower economic growth in the U.S. and maybe even abroad. That would mean less demand. We may actually end up having almost the reverse of the situation in 1990. We'll have too much oil.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: A war in the Middle East or Central Asia could change that, of course. And some Congressional insiders suspect the comprehensive energy package they were working on may have to be pushed aside until next year. Others say in the coming weeks we might see more narrow legislation, focused closely on security matters. Whether drilling in ANWR will be on the agenda isn't clear. Right now, divisive issues are pretty much off limits. If it does come up for consideration, pro-drilling supporters may have found a few new allies.

At least one lawmaker who'd been on the fence said, he'd remain opposed to drilling unless there was some sort of crisis. But that was before September 11th. For Living on Earth, I'm Anna Solomon-Greenbaum in Washington.



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