Local environmentalists say they are battling escalating appeals for the United States to drill for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), a proposal that has gained momentum since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"Some politicians are using the tragedies to propagate their agenda," says Jen Brock, Louisiana field organizer for the Alaska Wilderness League. "We welcome a debate on energy, and we think the facts will stand on their own that drilling in ANWR will not be the solution."
Earlier this month, Sen. Jim Inhofe introduced two amendments to a defense appropriations bill that would authorize exploration in the Alaskan coastal refuge. The Oklahoma Republican and other ANWR drilling supporters argued that terrorist attacks emphasized America's need to decrease the country's dependence on foreign energy sources.
Senators ultimately voted 100-0 against tacking the amendments onto the defense bill, which authorized spending for anti-terrorism activities, but made it clear the issue remains a hot-button topic.
Brock says environmental groups are trying to build support for their argument that the country should instead explore alternative energy sources to reduce its dependence on all oil, whether foreign or domestic.
Her organization, helped by local chapters of environmental and public interest groups, toured Louisiana last week with two representatives of the Alaskan area that would be affected by oil exploration -- a Gwich'in Indian who was born near the wildlife refuge and now lives in Slidell, and an ANWR wildlife tour guide.
Brock says the series of lectures was designed to generate public opposition to the ANWR proposal and to urge Louisiana residents to voice their dissent to Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat who remains one of the swing votes.
"Senator Landrieu sits on the Energy Committee, so basically she's one of three key senators in the country," Brock says. "Right now she's undecided. Our strategy is to continue to show her the American public is opposed to drilling in ANWR. We want to be able to mobilize public support [of the Alaska Wilderness League] and have people writing letters to her."
Landrieu has indicated in published reports that she supports exploration in ANWR. A spokeswoman says the senator had no comment, though sources close to Landrieu have indicated she plans to vote with drilling proponents.