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Ottawa Citizen

Canada to fight Bush over Arctic oil drilling

Environment minister 'utterly opposed' to exploitation of wildlife refuge

Kate Jaimet The Ottawa Citizen

Canada will fight the plan by U.S. president-elect George W. Bush to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Environment Minister David Anderson vowed yesterday.

"I'm utterly opposed," Mr. Anderson said in an interview with the Citizen.

Mr. Bush has said he plans to allow oil exploration in the refuge, a vast Arctic plain that straddles the border between Alaska and the Yukon.

The refuge provides a safe calving ground for the 200,000 caribou of the Porcupine caribou herd -- one of the largest free-roaming herds left in the world. Environmentalists fear oil extraction will destroy the calving grounds with a network of pipelines, airstrips, access roads and heavy machinery, leading to mass deaths of pregnant cows and newborn calves.

Mr. Anderson said the caribou herd is a Canadian concern, because the animals migrate over the border into the Yukon, and Canadian native people depend on the caribou hunt for food.

"We can only keep on pointing out the fact that this is an international herd of animals. We have a long tradition of concern where animals cross the border," he said.

The plan to drill for oil in the refuge first came up in the late 1980s, under the presidency of Mr. Bush's father, George Bush Sr. It was shelved after the Exxon Valdez disaster spilled 40 million litres of crude oil in Prince William Sound and raised fears about the risks of oil exploration in the High Arctic.

One way for Canada to put pressure on the U.S. would be to refuse a pipeline across Canadian soil if the Americans allowed drilling in the refuge.

The Americans have already expressed interest in a pipeline across Canada to transport the natural gas found in Alaska's Prudhoe bay. But Mr. Anderson said he would not go that far in pressuring the Americans.

Instead, he said, he would encourage them to look for other places to drill in the Arctic.

"This is not: You do what we want or we won't do what you want. But I think there are some alternatives with respect to energy," Mr. Anderson said.

The change in administration in the United States will also lead to delays in other environmental issues, such as coming to an international agreement on global warming, he predicted.

After global warming talks in The Hague fell apart in November, officials from Canada and the United States spent the Christmas season feverishly negotiating with their European counterparts to try to reach a deal before the end of the Clinton administration.

Those talks were unsuccessful, and the negotiations will be further delayed now, as Mr. Bush's officials get up to speed on the issues and hammer out their position.

Mr. Bush in the past has been critical of the 1997 Kyoto agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, saying it comes down too hard on American interests, especially oil interests.

"We're certainly concerned. And I have to admit disappointment we didn't get an agreement with the Europeans," Mr. Anderson said. "Now we're faced with uncertainty. Certain delay, but uncertainty as to what that delay will lead to."

"He himself is an oil man," Mr. Anderson added, referring to the president-elect. "(Vice-president Dick) Cheney is an oil man. He's just appointed a secretary of the Interior from the oil industry. It's going to be a very, very interesting period while we discover what the views of the administration are. That said, I think it's wrong to make assumptions too quickly."

Mr. Anderson said Canada will push a green agenda in its dealings with the United States. But that stance could cause some friction with a president not known for his environmentally progressive attitudes.

Mr. Bush has said that he favours easing some environmental regulations that stifle business. Mr. Anderson said he's willing to work with the new American administration and remains open to new ideas.

"If the U.S. and the Bush administration do focus on the issue of market incentives to achieve environmental goals, it may be that we enter a whole new area of environmental management through economic instruments rather than regulatory instruments," he said. "If you can harness the market to achieve environmental objectives, you can go a long way."

-- Rachel Gibson (, January 04, 2001

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