“It’s All About the Grease”

Perhaps you have seen (to see again look at the H. Joseph AP story below – Story 1) that the Senate recently voted basically to allow oil drilling in the precious Arctic Wildlife Refuge – something that the…

masters of imperial corporate petro-plutocracy have been lusting about for as long as I can recall. The refuge, which is (I think) the last pristine natural environment left in the US (or close to it) was set aside by that radical hippy eco-terrorist tree hugger Dwight Eisenhower in 1960. The running dog ecocidal Bushcons succeeded in putting an arctic drilling provision in the FY 06 budget bill, thereby insulating it from the filibuster process that has traditionally permitted Democrats and moderate Republicans to block this sickening assault on what’s left of a healthy planetary environment. The fact that gas prices are hitting new highs (or close to it) is considered to be a good opportunity for this vicious and unforgivable (one of so many) move.

Not part of the newsworthy context in any of the press coverage I’m seeing is the uncomfortable little problem that the planet is melting under the literally sickening hegemony of the capitalist petropigs.

“Also worth noting and also directly related to the rapacious global petro-capitalism that haunts the 21st century,” I wrote last November, “the planet’s vital ice caps continued to melt under the withering pressure of dangerously under-regulated carbon emissions. In a New York Time story that appeared and was rapidly forgotten on the Saturday before the big election, we learned some of the findings of a major forthcoming 4-year study commisioned by the governments of 8 nations with Arctic territory, including the United States. The study shows that dangerous humanity-generated Arctic warming is well underway and likely to become more “fast-paced” in future years, with grave implications for human beings and other living things. According to the Times:

‘A comprehensive four-year study of warming in the Arctic shows that heat-trapping gases from tailpipes and smokestacks around the world are contributing to profound environmental changes, including sharp retreats of glaciers and sea ice, thawing of permafrost and shifts in the weather, the oceans and the atmosphere. The study, commissioned by eight nations with Arctic territory….was conducted by nearly 300 scientists [and] support[s] the broad but politically controversial scientific consensus that global warming is caused mainly by rising atmospheric concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, The report says that ‘while some historical changes in climate have resulted from natural causes and variations, the strength of the trends and the patterns of change that have emerged in recent decades indicate that human influences, resulting primarily from increased emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, have now become the dominant factor.’ The Arctic ‘is now experiencing some of the most rapid and severe climate change on Earth,’ the report says, adding, ‘Over the next 100 years, climate change is expected to accelerate, contributing to major physical, ecological, social and economic changes, many of which have already begun.’ The potential benefits of the changes include projected growth in marine fish stocks and improved prospects for agriculture and timber harvests in some regions, as well as expanded access to Arctic waters” but “the list of potential harms is far longer….The report concludes that the consequences of the fast-paced Arctic warming will be global. In particular, the accelerated melting of Greenland’s two-mile-high sheets of ice will cause sea levels to rise around the world” (Andrew S. Revkin, “Big Arctic Perils Seen in Warming, Survey Finds,” New York Times, October 30, 2004, A1).

For the full piece I did on this in November, see Street, “The Planet is Melting”


For some deeper historical context, see the interesting story that I have also pasted in below (Story 2). It’s from the San Francisco Chronicle in April of 2002, as a marginally saner Senate was preparing to block an earlier assault on the refuge. Listen to the histrionics of racist US Senator Trent Lott (R-Mississippi) on how he will blame any future gas price increases (the worst thing that can ever befall Americans) on failure to open the Arctic (how’s that for an energy policy?). Note also how he connects the gas price specter with the situation in Iraq (still 11 months away from being illegally invaded/occupied and from having 98,000 of its civilians killed over the next 18 months after that) and with the (then very hot) situation in oil-rich Venezuela (the American corporate-state oilogarchs approved the pathetic business-class television coup against that country’s popular populist President Hugo Chavez in April 2002).

Consistent with the title of a recent book about US policy—- “It’s the Crude, Dude” — corporate petroleum interests are one of the great connecting links in American policymaker behavior (check out the imperial oil and basing connections that Chalmers Johnson makes in his book Sorrows of Empire).

I spoke yesterday to three classes at Chicago’s inner city Hales-Franciscan High School (recent winners of the Class A State basketball championship). I asked students how they explained US behavior in the world today, especially in the Middle East. “It’s all about the grease,” one student sagely pronounced: “the black slime, the Texas tea…it’s all about the oil.”

Give that young man a Ph.D.

I am about to be away from any and all computers for 9 or 10 days; will return in early April. If you are anywhere near a major metropolitan area and can determine that a march is happening on Saturday, I recommend joining in. No, marching is not a solution in and of itself, but it can be good for the heart and sometimes you meet interesting people on the better side of “human nature.”

Story 1: Senate votes to allow Arctic drilling
March 16, 2005

WASHINGTON– Amid the backdrop of soaring oil and gasoline prices, a sharply divided Senate on Wednesday voted to open the ecologically rich Alaska wildlife refuge to oil drilling, delivering a major energy policy win for President Bush.

The Senate, by a 51-49 vote, rejected an attempt by Democrats and GOP moderates to remove a refuge drilling provision from next year’s budget, preventing opponents from using a filibuster– a tactic that has blocked repeated past attempts to open the Alaska refuge to oil companies.

The action, assuming Congress agrees on a budget, clears the way for approving drilling in the refuge later this year, drilling supporters said.

The oil industry has sought for more than two decades to get access to what is believed to be billions of barrels of oil beneath the 1.5 million-acre coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the northern eastern corner of Alaska.

Environmentalists have fought such development and argued that despite improve environmental controls a web of pipelines and drilling platforms would harm calving caribou, polar bears and millions of migratory birds that use the coastal plain.

Bush has called tapping the reserve’s oil a critical part of the nation’s energy security and a way to reduce America’s reliance on imported oil, which account for more than half of the 20 million barrels of crude use daily.

It’s “a way to get some additional reserves here at home on the books,” Bush said Wednesday.
The Alaska refuge could supply as much as 1 million barrels day at peak production, drilling supporters said. But they acknowledge that even if ANWR’s oil is tapped, it would have no impact on soaring oil prices and tight supplies. The first lease sales would not be issued until 2007, followed by development seven to 10 years later, Interior Secretary Gale Norton said.

“We won’t see this oil for 10 years. It will have minimal impact,” argued Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., a co-sponsor of the amendment that would have stripped the arctic refuge provision from the budget document. It is “foolish to say oil development and a wildlife refuge can coexist,” she said.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., argued that more oil would be saved if Congress enacted an energy policy focusing on conservation, more efficient cars and trucks and increased reliance on renewable fuels and expanded oil development in the deep-water Gulf where there are significant reserves.
“The fact is (drilling in ANWR) is going to be destructive,” said Kerry.

But drilling proponents argued that modern drilling technology can safeguard the refuge and still tap the likely– though not yet certain– 10.4 billion barrels of crude in the refuge.

“Some people say we ought to conserve more. They say we ought to conserve instead of producing this oil,” said Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., “But we need to do everything. We have to conserve and produce where we can.”

The vote Wednesday contrasted with the last time the Senate took up the ANWR drilling issue two years ago. Then, an attempt to include it in the budget was defeated. But drilling supporters gained strength last November when Republicans picked up three additional seats, all senators who favored drilling in the refuge.

Opponents of drilling complained that Republicans this time were trying “an end run” by attaching the refuge provisions to the budget, a tactic that would allow the measure to pass with a majority vote.
“It’s the only way around a filibuster” which requires 60 votes to overcome, countered Stevens.
The 19-million-acre refuge was set aside for protection by President Eisenhower in 1960, but Congress in 1980 said its 1.5 million acre coastal plain could be opened to oil development if Congress specifically authorizes it.

The House has repeatedly passed measures over the years to allow drilling in ANWR only to see the legislation stalled in the Senate. But last week, the House refused to include an ANWR provision in its budget document, although any differences between the Senate and House versions would likely be resolved in negotiations.

Drilling supporters argued that access to the refuge’s oil was a matter of national security and that modern drilling technology would protect the region’s wildlife.

Environmentalists contended that while new technologies have reduced the drilling footprint, ANWR’s coastal plain still would contain a spider web of pipelines that would disrupt calving caribou and disturb polar bears, musk oxen and the annual influx of millions of migratory birds.

(See also ABC News story March 16, 2005 at


Story 2

Senate expected to kill Arctic drilling plan today
- Carolyn Lochhead, Chronicle Washington Bureau
Thursday, April 18, 2002
San Francisco Chronicle

Washington — An intense yearlong effort to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling is expected to fail decisively in the Senate today.

If the plan is voted down, it will be a major defeat for President Bush and his odd-bedfellow alliance with the Teamsters Union, and serve as a stunning demonstration of the environmental movement’s muscle.

Environmentalists appear to have prevailed over two politically potent issues Republicans had hoped would help their drilling plan: renewed concern about rising oil prices amid turmoil in the Middle East and in Venezuela, and a last-minute offer to use Arctic oil money to bail out the steel industry’s health care plans, aimed at pro-union Democrats.

The environmental lobby is heralding the likely outcome as one of its biggest-ever victories — and a close call. The Republican-controlled House approved the drilling last summer, and had the Senate vote been taken shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, lobbyists said, oil rigs would be heading to the Arctic refuge.

“This will be one of the biggest environmental victories in years,” said Perry Plumart, director of government relations for the Audubon Society. “After environmentalists lost that vote in the House, it really energized the entire environmental community to make sure we absolutely did not lose in the Senate. This was a make or break vote.”

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who led the effort to defeat drilling in the Alaskan wildlife refuge, said yesterday, “As a result of a tremendous effort by grassroots people all over this country who have expressed their anger at the proposal to drill for oil in the Arctic Refuge, I think we’re going to win this battle.”

Debate over the measure — part of a mammoth energy bill — continued yesterday as it has for weeks, as Alaska’s two Republican senators, Frank Murkowski and Ted Stevens, continued to insist that drilling in just 2,000 acres of the 19 million-acre Arctic refuge would do no harm to wildlife and help the country reduce its dependence on foreign oil.


“We’re not destroying anything,” said Sen. Christopher Bond, R-Mo., “Even if we were going in to burn and turn everything upside down, we’re talking about 2,000 acres, just little over 3 square miles out of 30,600 square miles.”

With modern drilling technologies and ice roads that minimize the industrial footprint left on the tundra, Bond said, “We’ve shown how it can be done without any damage, and we’re only talking about a thumbnail.”

But the Arctic wildlife refuge, despite its location in one of the most forbidding and remote areas of the world, seldom visited by even the most stout ecotourists, has become over the past two decades the holy grail of the U.S. environmental movement.

“The Arctic refuge is our last remaining intact ecosystem,” said Peter van Tuyn, litigation director for Trustees for Alaska, an environmental law firm in Anchorage. “It is one of the last great wildlife spectacles on Earth really.

Risking all that incredible wilderness and natural values for six months worth of oil just doesn’t make sense, and that’s why you see deep-seated conservation values coming up in so many people across the country on this one. ”


Plumart compared the Arctic refuge to California’s ancient redwood forests, the Florida Everglades and the boundary waters of northern Minnesota. “People may not go there physically, but they go there spiritually,” Plumart said of the Arctic. “That last frontier is important to people. They want to know that the wilderness is there.”

Van Tuyn also took vigorous exception to the claim that the measure would limit drilling to 2,000 acres of wilderness, saying the limits would not apply to roads and pipelines, and that nothing in the measure requires the 2,000 acres to be contiguous.

The arctic drilling debate has stalled the Senate’s broader energy legislation for a month now, holding up nearly all other Senate business as Republicans, led by Murkowski, have talked endlessly on the floor about the merits of drilling, while desperately trying to round up votes.

The latest effort by Stevens, the ranking Republican on the powerful Appropriations Committee, was an offer to trade $8.1 billion in expected oil lease revenues to bail out retiree health care plans of ailing steel and coal companies, a goal hotly sought by Democrats.

But when West Virginia Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller spurned the deal, he provided political cover for other Rust-Belt Democrats with large union constituencies to vote against the drilling plan.

The steel offer also alarmed conservative Republicans. The cost of the steel bailout would have been immediate, but the promised revenues from Arctic oil might have taken several years to materialize. The resulting budget costs, and the precedent it would have set, alienated conservatives in the House and Senate GOP leadership.


Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., warned that he will trace any oil price increases to the drilling measure’s defeat, particularly in light of the turmoil in Venezuela, the fourth-largest oil exporter to the United States, and the Middle East, where Iraq’s Saddam Hussein said he would cut off oil supplies in a show of support for the Palestinian cause.

“I don’t want to say I told you so, but when gas prices go up . . . and when we have brownouts, it will be traceable right back to this body and this vote,” Lott said.

The drilling vote has been the target of intense lobbying on both sides, with the Teamsters and several other unions staging rallies, running advertisements and pressuring members.

The drilling measure will come up today as a vote to end a Democratic filibuster on an amendment by Murkowski to permit the drilling. Breaking the filibuster would require 60 votes, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S. D., said Republicans are about 10 votes short of that and may not be able to muster even a simple majority.

Murkowski has threatened to bring down the entire energy legislation if the drilling measure fails, but Alaska’s delegation is holding out hope he can still prevail in a final conference to meld the separate House and Senate bills. Opponents said a strong vote today against drilling in the refuge will all but doom the effort.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was first designated in 1960 as a wildlife haven of 8.9 million acres. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed legislation doubling its size, but with a provision to allow limited drilling on the coastal plain. In 1995, President Bill Clinton vetoed a budget bill that would have allowed drilling.


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