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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Chris Lien: What I Learned in ANWR

From Republican U.S. House of Representatives Candidate Chris Lien of Rapid City, South Dakota:
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On July 14th, I had the opportunity to travel to Alaska and tour its North Slope Region. The reason for the trip was in response to hearing so many people in South Dakota ask me the question, "what can we do about the rising costs of gas and fuel?" My answer has been, time and time again, "responsibly increasing the supply to meet the demand." To accomplish this, I believe that we need to take ownership and accountability right here in the United States; ownership of our reserves and accountability to the environment.

Growing up in a family business that extracts natural resources from the ground has taught me the importance of seeing first-hand how any exploration and production operation might be handled. Additionally, I've learned that, to truly find a solution, you must get the facts from every side of the argument.

It is true that I have been in favor of increasing the supply of energy we hold in the United States. It is also true that I was in favor of allowing for the exploration and production on the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). However, I've found that merely doing research through the internet and media has never been as accurate as doing it on the ground in the place where it happens. Nothing tells the story better than those who live it every day. Therefore, I made the choice to pay my way and travel to the source with six other congressional challengers last week.



Left: Aerial view of the proposed drilling site, the Coastal Plain

As a bit of context, we were able to fly over the southern portion of ANWR. How absolutely breathtaking it was. After seeing it firsthand, I am pleased to know that this portion (92% of the entire region) will never be open to exploration. However, as we made it further north and dropped down over the Brooks Range, the landscape changed dramatically; from mountains and trees, fields and rivers… to a boggy tundra. That's when we knew we had made it to the Coastal Plain. It was here that we had the great fortune of landing in the native village of Kaktovik (population 250) and were able to speak directly to those who live there. This was precisely why we made the journey; to hear firsthand from those who live the issue.

Left: Chris examining the boggy tundra of ANWR…

Over the course of our three-day journey, we were able to meet with Alaskan natives, oil workers, villagers, proponents, opponents, engineers, environmentalists, wildlife biologists, government officials (including Governor Palin) and people on the street. We were able to stand on the tundra; walk alongside the caribou and run from the mosquitoes. Every preference on the spectrum of this issue was explored throughout Anchorage, Fairbanks, Kaktovik, Prudhoe Bay, and Barrow.

Regardless of the region, we found that nearly 75% of everyone we met was in favor of exploration and production on the Coastal Plain. However, the most impactful testimony I received was from a native in Barrow standing at a community picnic with his family. I was able to ask him directly if he thought this was the right thing for his family and our country. His answer was an unequivocal "yes".

While on the flight home, I had several hours to reflect on the trip. When I got off the airplane in Rapid City, I couldn't help but ask myself, "If the people of Alaska believe it's the right thing to do, why can't congress figure it out?" Then it dawned on me again - that's the reason I chose to take this journey…not only to Alaska, but to Congress as well.

-Chris


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