Protect the Commons!We the people own in common all sorts of physical resources, valuable commodities that certain business entities or organizations would love to get their greedy talons on. Since you and I lack the time, infrastructure, or, frankly, the expertise to manage our massive portfolio, we appoint agents to manage them for us. Actually, we elect these agents or, in some cases, those who appoint them. This system, as I’ve already pointed out, only works when our elected officials and political appointees work in the public’s best interest.

Believe it or not, some politicians have been known to work against the interests of the American people, particularly when constituents with deeper pockets and slicker lobbyists have their own opposing intentions.

There is no better example of this unfortunate truth than the fabled oil reserves found beneath the forbidding tundra of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Oil companies want a crack at that black gold. The American people, on the other hand, would rather maintain this fragile habitat unspoiled and intact instead of allowing the extraction process to mangle the ecosystem for scant potential gain. With the public will on this matter crystal clear, one would think that our managing agents, which is to say, our elected officials, would enforce our collective will and say, “Thanks but no thanks!” to erstwhile arctic drillers.

The reality of the ANWR debate, as everyone knows, is not simply one of principled service to the people but also obsequious kowtowing to corporate masters. For more than ten years, a cavalcade of politicians, every one Republican, has trotted out excuse after feeble, pandering excuse to try to convince taxpayers that drilling in ANWR is the solution to our nation’s woes. Paul Rauber, a contributor to the sensational Sierra Club RAW Newsletter, put together an amazing timeline of how, as different issues have ebbed and flowed in importance over time, proffered reasons to despoil our arctic refuge have conveniently morphed as well:

  • 1995: Senator Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) proposes applying $2.3 billion from Arctic Refuge oil leases to budget-deficit reduction.
  • April 2001: George W. Bush says he’d use $1.2 billion in Refuge proceeds for solar and renewable-energy technologies.
  • August 2001: Wait! Senator John Sununu (R-N.H.) suggests using half the money for clearing up the maintenance backlog in the national parks, and half for alternative-energy technologies.
  • April 2002: Drilling proponents try to drag the steel industry in on their side. In addition to promising thousands of union jobs building infrastructure and pipelines, Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) promises $7 billion from Refuge revenues over 30 years to fund pensions for retired steelworkers.
  • March 2003: Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) has a better idea: Contributing $250 million a year from oil leases to the Land and Water Conservation Fund. “We might be…taking some environmental risk,” Alexander admitted, “but we would be balancing that by a huge environmental benefit…closer to where people live, near their homes.”
  • April 2003: No wait! It’s still snowing in Pennsylvania, so Representative John E. Peterson (R-Pa.) offers an amendment providing $400 million of Refuge money annually to help people pay their home-heating bills.
  • March 2004: Now Senator Stevens wants to set aside some Arctic Refuge oil revenues to help Alaska villages deal with climate change caused by global warming.
  • June 2004: Steelworkers are so 2003. Representative Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) wants to use the money to pay for the cleanup of abandoned coal mines and to pay for health care for retired coalminers.
  • November 2005: The deficit is ballooning again, so Senator Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) sponsors a bill that would commit $2.4 billion in Arctic oil revenues to pay it down again.
  • December 2005: Senator Stevens ties Arctic drilling to a must-pass defense-spending bill, promising $1.9 billion dollars to help states affected by hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma.
  • May 2006: Gas prices are nearing $3 a gallon, so Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) proposes mailing $100 rebate checks to voters-but only if the Arctic Refuge is opened to oil drilling.

The desperation here is appalling and this is only through May 2006! These shameless politicians all work for us in theory, but seem to serve other interests. Their gratitude for our votes evaporates mere minutes after Election Day polls close. Obviously, we have to watch each and every one of our corporate puppets representatives closely. Wealth does not last forever, particularly when it is mismanaged; many a fortune has been lost through ideology, stupidity, or perfidy. Our collective riches are the American commons. This is a fortune we cannot afford to have stolen away.

Written by Mike
Mike is a leading authority in the field of standardized test preparation, but he's also a traveler who fully expects to see every bird in the world. Besides founding 10,000 Birds in 2003, Mike has also created a number of other entertaining but now extirpated nature blog resources, particularly the Nature Blog Network and I and the Bird.