This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," March 11, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You see, developing a small section of ANWR (search) would not only create thousands of new jobs, but it would eventually reduce our dependence on foreign oil by up to a million barrels of oil a day. And that's important.


JOHN GIBSON, HOST: President Bush promoting the cornerstone of his energy plan: drilling for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The president's proposal would affect 2,000 acres, less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the Refuge. But Democrats say there's a lot more at stake.

Betsy Hart (search) is a syndicated columnist for Scripps-Howard News Service. Bill Press (search) is the author of the book, "Bust Must Go."

GIBSON: Now Bill, I know you're a good environmentalist. I'm always curious about this. Environmentalists have created the most stringent oil exploration rules in the world for anybody developing oil here in the United States. How can a good environmentalist say, "You can't go to ANWR, apply those very stringent and safe practices, but we know when you can't go there, you're going to drive your ship over to the Congo and Azerbaijan and fill it up there?" And you have no influence on the environmental catastrophes being created there.

BILL PRESS, AUTHOR, "BUSH MUST GO": Hi, John. Thank you. That's a loaded question, John.

GIBSON: You know it is. Bill, you would expect nothing less.

PRESS: But I'm ready for it.

First of all, because this is a pristine wilderness area, you don't go to ANWR for the same reason you don't go to the middle of Yosemite, you don't go to the middle of the Grand Canyon.

GIBSON: By the way, have you been there?

PRESS: President Eisenhower set this aside when he put 98 percent of Alaska up for drilling; he said there should be one little corner of it that remained intact for future generations. That is ANWR.

Plus one thing I go to correct you on, John: this is not just 2,000 acres. President Bush says that, but it is totally misleading. Those 2,000 acres are not contiguous; they only count the place where the equipment touches the ground. It does not include the roads, it does not include...

GIBSON: But they're ice roads. They'll melt in the summer.

PRESS: We're talking about thousands and thousands and thousands...

GIBSON: Bill, let me just interject before I turn you over to Betsy: Have you been there?

PRESS: No, I haven't been there.

GIBSON: I've been there.

OK. Betsy?

BETSY HART, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST, SCRIPPS-HOWARD NEWS SERVICE: Bill, I love the fact the environmentalists always bring up, "Well, you wouldn't cut down the Redwood Forests for firewood." Well, I would if my children -- if that was the only way that they could stay warm. That's not an issue, so we don't to have worry about things like the Grand Canyon, the Redwood Forests; we've got lots of trees we can grow. We don't need those things.

If it were different, then I would look at that whole resource in a very different light. And I think that you probably would, too. The question is: do we need the oil in Alaska? Bill, I'm not sure that we do. Oil is cheap, it's plentiful. The fact is, the Saudis need to sell us their oil.

I'm not at all convinced we have to have that oil in ANWR. What I am saying is that, unfortunately, because it's controlled by the government, we don't have any mechanism for figuring out the most valuable way, or the best way to use that land -- what it's most valuable for.

Maybe it is some pristine, wonderful piece of property; maybe it can really produce some terrific oil to meet more of our needs. Let's let the market decide. What I would argue for is let's put it up to auction.

GIBSON: OK, Betsy. Bill's been trying to get in.

Go ahead, Bill.

PRESS: OK. Wait, wait, wait, let's slow down here.

Number one, totally bogus argument. I would drill up there if the life of my child depended on it. Betsy, there are plenty of other alternatives.

HART: That's exactly what I said.

PRESS: Whoa, whoa, whoa! Please let me finish this time. OK?

If we just increase the efficiency of cars in this country two miles per gallon, and you damn well know we could do that, there would be no need for ANWR.

The second thing, I've got to point out, Betsy, is that there are market indicators about this. Why is it that Chevron, Texaco, B.P. and Conoco have all pulled out of Alaska? Pulled out of ANWR, that is? They have said they would not take the leases up there if you gave them to them for free. They know there is not enough oil and it would take too much time to deliver it.

GIBSON: Bill, is it possible that those oil companies don't want to go and take those leases at this point because they're worried about you getting on their case?

HART: Exactly!

GIBSON: As soon as they go up there and try to drill for some oil!

HART: Bill, wait a minute. They're worried about the politics of the situation.

Now, we can't...

PRESS: I think, John, did address that question to me.

GIBSON: Yes. I want to hear this answer.

Then I'll let you jump in, Betsy, but let me hear this answer -- Bill.

PRESS: Look, absolutely not. If you think the oil companies are afraid of the environmentalists -- John, I've been fighting these guys since we stopped them from drilling offshore in California.

GIBSON: I know! That's why they went to the Congo.

PRESS: No, no, no. They will go where they know the oil is. They don't want ANWR, because they know the oil is not there. This is George Bush's pipe dream.

GIBSON: Bill, when you stopped Chevron from operating a platform offshore of California that they built, they said, "We give up here. We're tired of dealing with the Bill Presses of the world; we're going to go to the Congo and Azerbaijan. Nobody gives us any lip there."

PRESS: You know what, John? The last time I saw Chevron's bottom line, I don't think you have to weep crocodile tears for Chevron or Texaco. They don't want ANWR, because there's no oil there. Not enough.

HART: John, Bill may or may not be right.

GIBSON: He's not right! I'm not giving up that point!

PRESS: Yes, I am.

HART: But my point is, we may be able to have as much as 30 years of the equivalent of imports from Saudi Arabia in Alaska, or it may be as little as six months. The best estimates are that it would be decades.

But the issue is, we're having these political debates. And by the way, if we were to make cars more fuel efficient, we have to make them lighter and more dangerous -- separate issue.

PRESS: Baloney. That's baloney.

HART: Bill!

GIBSON: I've got to go! Betsy Hart, Bill Press, we'll argue about this another day.

Bill, you will live long enough to be driving on oil from ANWR, I promise you. I've got to run. Thanks you guys.

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