Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith stuck to his guns and again voted against oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He was one of just eight Republicans who helped defeat the latest legislation to propose leasing the entire 1.5-million-acre coastal plain of the refuge.
The defeat miffed President Bush, since the drilling proposal was a key part of his so-called energy plan. But no one was more furious than Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and a leading advocate of drilling in the refuge. He warned last week that senators who opposed drilling were "voting against me, and I will not forget it."
A Washington Post columnist suggested that Oregon drivers "may want to make sure they have good shock absorbers in the next few years," a reference to a possible drop in funding for state highway projects, a key area of spending controlled by Stevens.
Such petulance would be childish and unprofessional but hardly unheard of when it comes to congressional funding debates.
Regardless, we applaud Smith for ignoring the bullying tactics of Stevens and voting his conscience, and also sticking to his campaign promise to oppose Alaska drilling. We'll even forgive the inconsistency of acknowledging the threat of revenge by Stevens but stressing that "I also answer to the people of Oregon." Smith has ignored his public "bosses" in Oregon's fight with the federal government over physician-assisted death, but it's hard to argue his sincerity on the issue.
As for drilling in the biological heart of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, it would provide less than a six-month supply of oil for the United States and take at least 10 years to bring the oil to market, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Consequently it would have very little impact on our foreign oil dependence, which erodes the "national security" argument. Besides, 95 percent of Alaska's North Slope already is open for oil exploration and development. And you should know that the Alaska Department of Conservation contends the oil industry still averages nearly 400 spills a year on the North Slope. That doesn't bode well for drilling in the refuge.
Sen. Smith did the right thing to vote to protect one of our nation's natural treasures.