In a February 19th Special to Roll Call, Colonel David Hunt, U.S. Army (Ret.) penned a column about "Obama's War on Arctic Energy". Personally, I would like to thank President Obama and Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell for their decision to keep drilling out of the Arctic.
As I read through the column, however, I wondered if Col. Hunt had ever visited the Arctic or if he was aware of what happened with the wreck of the Kulluk; if he understood the power of renewable energies and whether or not he was aware of the many grave concerns that go along with a strong desire to double down on oil drilling and what more, not less, oil out in the world would do to our long term environmental and economic security in the United States.
There is one point where we do agree, that the steering committee on U.S. Arctic Policy should include Alaska natives and officials. At the same time, I wonder if Col. Hunt would be interested in engaging the fishing communities of the Gulf of Mexico (Deepwater Horizon) on a steering committee for U.S. Gulf of Mexico policy; residents of Mayflower, Ark. for a steering committee on pipelines in their communities following the spill there in 2014; or anyone who has ever appreciated our national parks like Yellowstone on a steering committee for pipelines near or through National Parks following the 2015 spill there.
The bogey man of a militarized Russia is certainly something that will get people concerned as they make incursions into the Arctic, and yes, lower oil prices as pointed out, will make it more difficult for countries like Russia to maintain the economic power that pays for their militarization. A strategy however, of flooding the market with more oil -- never mind that we'd most likely also be flooding the Arctic itself with more oil that the various companies involved with the drilling would have limited liability in clean up -- passing on any of the additional bill to tax payers, would not make much sense if there were other alternatives.
First, if Arctic oil flooded the market so much that Russia no longer profited from oil sales, how would we profit from oil sales as a country? Or is Col. Hunt assuming we just pay for the drilling as part of a broader defense strategy with public funds? Second, why not instead create better investment opportunities for renewable and alternate energy resources, as well as technologies that are increasingly less dependent on oil? If we can do that and flood the market with these technologies, would we achieve the same result? And if we can achieve the same result without imperiling one of the last, vast wilderness areas in the country, aren't we better off?
Trying to race to the bottom with Russia does not seem like a wise policy for anyone to participate in. In our overexcitement to defeat the then-Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the '80s, we helped the Mujaheddin, parts of which later became the core of the Taliban. Perhaps a better strategy then, as now, would be to try a different tactic than what the Russians are doing.
And let us also not discount the power of wilderness and the many species, the thousands and thousands of individual animals that call the Arctic home and the traditional peoples whose lives depend on them. Coming home from my war in 2006-07, I have found incredible healing in the outdoors, in wild places just like the Arctic. I was privileged enough to spend 12 days trekking through the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in 2013 with a group of four other veterans and two allies. It was a life changing trip for all of us. The beauty, the majesty, the hugeness of it all without a major imprint of man helped me to see that what I fought for, the spirit of our republican democracy, the physical embodiment of our Constitution's ideals was in that huge, public space.
I would invite Col. Hunt, or anyone who questions the power and reasons behind keeping a place like the Arctic off limits from drilling to first explore the tragedy of the Kulluk and other spills. Second, to look into what we need to do to become an alternative energy powerhouse and global leader. Third, spend time in the Arctic. If you're looking for a partner to journey with to that amazing place, I'm happy to go with you.