US Senate votes to protect the ArcticThe US Senate yesterday voted 54 to 46 to defeat a proposal to open the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. The vote is a wake-up call for the country's leaders to find creative ways to conserve energy and switch alternative energy sources that represent an environmentally sound future.
"This vote is a significant victory for those who believe that we can develop a future-oriented energy policy that protects our wilderness and wildlife resources now and for our children's future," said Brooks Yeager, vice president of WWF's global threats programme.
The vote sends a strong message that the Arctic Refuge is a unique national treasure that should be protected for future generations of people and wildlife. The refuge protects some of the world's most spectacular wilderness and wildlife, including the porcupine caribou, who move to the refuge's coastal plain each spring in one of North America's last great mammal migrations. The caribou rely on the coastal plain to give birth and raise their calves. Moreover, polar bears use the coastal plain as their denning habitat, the nursery for newborn cubs. Any oil development would endanger the area's population for these and dozens of other species of mammals and birds. WWF considers the coastal plain of the Arctic Ocean to be one of the world's most critical ecosystems for biodiversity protection.
In addition to environmental impacts, drilling for oil in the Arctic Refuge will do little or nothing to reduce US dependence on foreign oil or help our military. According to the US Geological Survey, recoverable oil under the Arctic Refuge would provide a six-month supply, and even industry officials admit that oil wouldn't be available for ten years.
"If we truly want to make an immediate and substantial impact to conserve energy, we need to change America's gas-guzzling addiction by increasing fuel efficiency standards," Yeager said. "If new cars, minivans and SUVs got just three miles more per gallon, it would save more oil within ten years than would ever be produced in the Arctic Refuge."
The Senate vote came one day after shareholders from the oil company BP voted with overwhelming support for a resolution calling on the company to be more transparent about its decision to drill in environmentally and culturally sensitive areas. Eleven per cent of shareholders voted for the resolution — filed by a transatlantic coalition of British, European, Canadian, and American investors including WWF, US PIRG, Trillium Asset Management, and Green Century Balance Fund — which requires BP to report on how it analyses and minimises the risks to BP's business from operating in sensitive areas.
Shelley Alpern, Assistant Vice President of Trillium Asset Management who co-presented the resolution, said: "This vote demonstrates clearly that BP's management is lacking blanket approval from shareholders to move forward in areas like the Alaskan coastal plain, Russia, Indonesia, and Colombia."
Robert Napier, Chief Executive of WWF-UK and co-presenter of the resolution at the AGM, said: "WWF is delighted with the vote of 11 per cent in favour and an unknown number of abstentions on this resolution. This sends a clear signal to the board that it needs to re-think its policy of operating in environmentally and culturally sensitive areas."
Athan Manuel, Director, Arctic Wilderness Campaign, US PIRG, said: "This in an unbelievable vote — 11 per cent of the world's third largest oil company just told BP to re-evaluate drilling in special areas like the Arctic."
For further information:
US Senate vote
Climate Communications Manager, WWF-US
BP shareholder vote
Press & Campaigns Officer, WWF-UK