Hawaii environmentalists say they're outraged that the state's Democratic senators sided with the Republican majority last week to pass a controversial bill that would allow oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Several said yesterday that they want to make sure their voice is heard before a House vote on the measure, which is set for as early as Wednesday.
"It is heartbreaking that our state has come to this," said Lucianne DeNaie, chair of the Sierra Club's Hawaii chapter. "We're extremely disappointed."
Sens. Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye were two of three Democrats who backed the bill in a 51-48 vote Thursday. Both were unavailable for comment yesterday, but have said they supported opening up the refuge to reduce dependence on foreign oil and allow economic development for native Alaskans.
"Over 10 years, I have been absolutely clear that my support for energy development in northern Alaska is based on its importance for native, indigenous peoples," Akaka said in a statement on the issue last month.
U.S. Rep. Ed Case, a Democrat, said yesterday that he would vote against the bill when it comes to the House floor on Wednesday or Thursday. Democratic Rep. Neil Abercrombie could not be reached, but he has opposed proposals to open the refuge to drilling in the past.
"You don't create a national refuge," Case said, "and then turn around and un-create it." He also criticized how the proposal to drill in Alaska was presented to Congress -- as part of a budget reconciliation bill. Budget bills cannot be filibustered.
"I think it's deception," Case said by telephone from Washington, D.C., yesterday. "I think it is insulting to the American people. A decision as major as opening up ANWR deserves to be voted on independently."
Environmental groups in the islands say their members and others sent hundreds of e-mails and letters to Inouye and Akaka, urging them to vote against the bill. Inouye also said in March that he had gotten hundreds of letters and telephone calls from those condemning oil drilling in the refuge.
But he has said the benefits of drilling outnumber the ills.
"I am well aware that the majority of my colleagues on the Democratic side are not with me," Inouye said in a March 16 debate on the Senate floor. "But I have taken this position for years."
Chuck Burrows, president of the environmental group Ahahui Malama Ika Lokahi, charged that the state's senators "are not representing" their constituencies.
"If we were to have a poll, I would say a majority of the people in Hawaii would not support our senators voting with the Republican senators," Burrows said, adding that Alaskan natives who depend on caribou herds, which roam in the refuge, will suffer a "change in their traditional lifestyle and spirituality."
Ahahui and other groups are now concentrating on contacting Hawaii's House representatives, hoping Case and Abercrombie can persuade colleagues to vote against the drilling.
"Our senators are doing a reverse Robin Hood," said Steve Montgomery, board member of the Conservation Council for Hawaii. "They're taking food off the table of the native tribe."
DeNaie, of the Sierra Club, said "we're praying" that Democrats and a number of House Republicans oppose the oil drilling bill and defeat it.
"You really need to take the long-term view," she said. "This is going to be seen as a very ill-advised policy to pursue, to just keep going into areas and exploiting them for small amounts of resources."
Drilling in the Arctic Refuge faces opposition in the House
According to the Associated Press, the Senate has finally passed a bill approving drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but the legislation still faces a struggle in the US House of Representatives.
Its a reversal from recent years when proposals to allow drilling in the Refuge have sailed through the House, only to die in the Senate. Governor Murkowski says he's worried about how the House may vote. He says many people had assumed getting the House to approve drilling wouldn't be a problem. But in the House, ANWR drilling may be threatened because it is attached to a budget bill rather than an energy bill, as it has been in the past.
Melinda Pierce, a Sierra Club lobbyist, says House Democrats tend to vote as a bloc when it comes to budget bills. She says when refuge drilling has been part of an energy bill, some Democrats from oil states have voted for it.
The Anchorage Daily News reports that some Republican leaders in Washington have already acknowledged they don't yet have the votes in the House to pass their bill.