Before the terrorist attacks on the U.S., environmental groups were often critical of the Bush Administration’s policies. But since September 11th, most of the environmental organizations have erased all traces of criticism of the White House. Some politicians, though, see opportunities to push through energy policies in the name of national security – policies that could damage the environment. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
Before the terrorist attacks on the U.S., environmental groups were often critical of the Bush Administration’s policies. But, since September 11th, most of the environmental organizations have erased all traces of criticism of the White House. Some politicians, though, see opportunities to push through energy policies in the name of national security, policies that could damage the environment. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports.
If you’d visited the Sierra Club Internet web site before September eleventh, or that of the Natural Resources Defense Council, or any of a dozen or more major environmental groups’ sites, you likely would have seen sometimes harsh criticism of the Bush Administration’s energy policies, environmental policies, and a host of other complaints the groups had against the White House. Some environmental groups were also running TV ads attacking the Bush Administration’s policies. But, after the terrorist attacks, the ads were pulled and many of the environmental groups removed those criticisms from their web sites in the name of national unity.
Joe Davis is editor of a tip sheet compiled for environmental journalists. He’s watched as most environmental groups have stifled their criticism since the attacks.
“I think everybody’s waiting just to see, you know, what’s going to happen in the next few days and weeks. And, of course, environmental groups are, for the most part, as patriotic as everybody else and people do understand that national unity is important.”
Some journalists have questioned whether the environmental groups are backing down from their positions or merely lying low for a little while. The environmental groups aren’t saying much. But behind the scenes, there’s concern that environmental protection will get trampled in the name of national security.
Meanwhile, some politicians have seen opportunities in the wake of the tragedy. Immediately after the attacks, the Alaska congressional delegation began pushing harder for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The members said such drilling would reduce America’s dependence on oil from the Middle East. They were admonished, though, for being opportunists in the wake of tragedy. The Alaska politicians quickly backed off and took the fight for drilling behind the scenes.
Outside of Washington, it’s a different story. Some state politicians have become even more vocal in their support of oil and gas exploration. Just before the terrorist attacks, Michigan’s Natural Resources Commission lifted a moratorium on drilling for oil and natural gas under the Great Lakes. The Michigan Legislature could still step in to block any such drilling. But some of the lawmakers say because of the terrorist attacks, Michigan should drill. Dale Shugars is a Republican State Senator who supports drilling under the lakes.
“With the sustained war that we’re going to be going into, I think it’s very important from a national security point of view that the country be more independent for oil and gas.”
Environmentalists in Michigan are appalled that Senator Shugars and some of their colleagues are taking that tact. James Clift is the policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council. He says the reserves under the lakes are so miniscule they’ll have next to no effect on the nation’s energy security and using the terrorist attacks to justify drilling under the Great Lakes is wrong.
“We do not believe that the unfortunate incident of the terrorist attack has changed anything as far as energy policy in the United States. The same conditions that applied before apply afterwards. And, even more so, I believe, is the importance for energy conservation. The United States only has four percent of the world’s reserves of oil and gas. Using those reserves up faster isn’t going to make the United States any more secure.”
But Senator Shugars thinks it is naïve to believe using less fuel will be enough. He says now that we’re at war with terrorists, it’s important to drill for fuel for the military and needs at home.
“It’s a fact that we’re going to be having a war against terrorism for a long time and I think that if one is going to look at a national energy policy, it has to include increasing supply and definitely – definitely has to be environmentally sensitive.”
Senator Shugars and others using the terrorist attacks to justify the energy and environmental policies that they want might be walking a tight rope. History shows Americans tend to frown on opportunism during times of national crisis. Environmental journalist Joe Davis says if politicians and energy industry leaders do use that approach, it could backfire. Especially since environmental groups are being quiet for the sake of a united patriotic front.
“Any party who tries to make short-term advantage out of a national crisis like this, I think, is very quickly going to be perceived as being exactly what it is: opportunistic. I don’t think the environmentalists will lay low forever and I don’t think they’re alone in questioning these things.”
But for now, most of the environmentalists are not saying much – at least publicly – about their opposition to the government’s energy and environmental policies. At least not until the nation begins to get past the shock of the terrorist attacks on the U.S.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.