WASHINGTON – President Bush on Saturday renewed his campaign to open an Arctic refuge to oil exploration, contending that drilling is essential to national security and job creation.
Bush, in his weekly radio address, said that plan is vital to his goal of making the United States less dependent on foreign energy sources. He also want to promote energy efficiency, develop wind and solar power, build fuel-efficient vehicles and combat pollution.
His bid to overturn the 1980 ban on drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the refuge remains the most contested element of his energy plan. It probably will face a filibuster from senators who believe the drilling would have serious environmental consequences.
Debate in the Senate on an energy bill was expected to begin this week. The House version, passed in the summer, permits drilling in a 1.5 million-acre section of the refuge.
Bush contends the drilling can move ahead with minimal environmental harm, and he says there is little choice.
"Conservation technology and renewables are important. Yet they alone cannot solve our energy problems," Bush said in the radio address. "We must also reduce America's dependence on foreign sources of oil by encouraging safe and clean exploration at home."
The president, who just returned six days to Asia, began his trip with a stop in Anchorage, Alaska. He said he found support in the state for a "balanced, comprehensive and aggressive energy plan" that includes further developing Alaska's oil reserves.
"Alaskans know firsthand that modern technology allows us to bring oil to the surface cleanly and safely, while protecting our environment and wildlife," Bush said.
Other elements of the Bush proposal would upgrade electric power lines, modernize other energy delivery systems and develop new fuel-efficient technologies, such as cars powered with hydrogen.
"America is already using more energy than our domestic resources can provide and unless we act to increase our energy independence, our reliance on foreign sources of energy will only increase," Bush said. He cited projections that U.S. oil consumption will increase by about one-third over the next 20 years while the demand for electricity rises by about 45 percent.
"We all remember the blackouts and the sky-high energy bills of recent summers," he said. "I urge Congress to protect consumers from these wild swings in energy prices for the future."
The government estimates that at least 5.7 billion barrels of oil — and possibly as many as 16 billion barrels — may be recoverable from the Arctic refuge.
Environmentalists say the refuge contains no more than 3.2 billion barrels, not enough to dramatically ease the country's reliance on imports. They assert that drilling there would endanger polar bears, musk oxen, 130 species of migrating birds and thousands of caribou.