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Interior Secretary Asks Teamsters for Help Pushing Arctic Drilling

Interior Secretary Gale Norton told upstate Teamsters Tuesday to push their U.S. senators to support more oil drilling in Alaska, saying it would create jobs and help stave off another energy crisis. 

A House-passed measure, opposed by environmental groups, would let companies pump oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It was backed by the Teamsters nationally last year, and unionists in Albany were asked to contact their two Democratic senators, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles Schumer, and urge them not to block the legislation. 

"In the short term, we know we need additional sources of energy," Norton said. 

She warned that an Iraqi ruling party politician is now calling for another Arab oil embargo, and in the energy crisis of the '70s only about one-third of U.S. consumption was foreign oil. "Today 57 percent of our energy comes from outside the United States," she said. 

About 50 members of Teamsters' Local 294, plus representatives of the VFW and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, applauded Norton at a union hall. She delivered a similar message last month to farmers and others in Arkansas, Missouri and Indiana, but tailored it Tuesday to her New York audience. 

"It would create 700,000 jobs for union members in this country," Norton said. The overall jobs number comes from a 12-year-old study done for the Petroleum Institute. A separate study for the Energy Department estimated that expanded drilling would create about one-third as many jobs. Environmentalists said it's closer to 50,000. 

Local 294 President John Bulgaro cited a Teamster estimate that the Coastal Plain development in Alaska could create 46,000 jobs in New York, including facility and equipment engineering and design. 

Some Democrats in Congress and environmentalists have accused the Republican Bush administration of exploiting terrorist fears to allow drilling in an area where oil won't actually be pumped for a decade, and even then not enough to offset American reliance on imports. 

"The energy bill that Secretary Norton is touting will mean more acid rain and less beaches for New Yorkers," said John Stouffer, legislative director of the Sierra Club's Atlantic Chapter. He said it would continue "the dangerous expansion of coal-burning power plants increasing global warming gasses and acid rain gasses." 

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., has pledged to lead a filibuster to block Senate passage and has said he expects Clinton to join him. 

"She believes it's bad environmental policy and bad energy policy," said Clinton spokesman Jim Kennedy. "She believes that through better use of alternative energy, including fuel cells, which New York companies are involved in making, as well as conservation, we can achieve greater energy independence." 

Schumer remains opposed to drilling in the wildlife refuge, a spokesman said. 

World oil production is about 77 million barrels a day. The 12-year-old study assumed the new Alaskan drilling would produce 1.9 million barrels a day in a market with world production of up to 55 million barrels.