More Links in News & Events

A Tundra Industrial Complex? No! By Jimmy Carter

This op-ed by Jimmy Carter was published in the LA Times. 

During my four years as President, I approved hundred of bills. But one that gave me particular satisfaction was the Alaska Lands Act, which I signed 10 years ago tomorrow. It was one of the great conservation laws of all time, protecting more than 100 million acres in our extraordinary 49th state.

The act created nine national wildlife refuges and expanded seven others, more than doubling the acreage in the nationwide system. Spectacular national parks like Denali (home of Mt. McKinley) were enlarged. Others were established, including Wrangell-St. Elias, 50 miles east of Valdez, the equivalent of four Yellowstones. These are just a few of the highlights.

But this landmark law has been under constant attack. The month after I signed it, those who had feverishly opposed the measure assumed control of the executive branch. They have been trying to undo the act ever since.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is still allowing excessive mining in three Alaskan rivers that have been included in the National Wild and Scenic River System. The bureau's oversight is limited, and these operations are polluting water and damaging important wildlife habitat.

At Kenai National Wildlife Refuge — rich in bears, moose and trumpeter swans — the Interior Department supports a plan to widen an existing 100-foot-wide right-of-way to a full mile to facilitate development. A microwave tower and a highway are among the proposed projects.

The most troubling example of the determined campaign to exploit Alaska involves the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the state's northeast corner. Called "America's Serengeti" because of its wealth of grizzlies, musk oxen, caribou and migratory birds, the coastal plain is an unspoiled wilderness unlike any other in the world. I was lucky enough to visit the spectacular place in June and witness the migration of the 180,000 Caribou of the Porcupine herd.

But some oil companies want to turn the coastal plain into a giant oil field. According to the Interior Department, there is a one-in-five chance that a large, commercially viable field lies beneath the refuge. The Reagan and Bush administrations, in concert with the oil industry, have pressed Congress to lease the entire coastal plain.

We do need to end our dependence on Middle East oil, but turning this priceless natural treasure into an industrial complex is not the answer. Interior Department officials have conceded that even if oil were found, the most likely output would satisfy only 2% of U.S. demand over the field's 30-year life. In contrast, an increase in new-car fuel efficiency standards of just one or two miles per gallon would save that much oil and make American cars more competitive in the global market at the same time. When the Environmental Protection Agency released its latest list of the 10 most fuel-efficient cars, not a single one was American. Our new cars are actually 4% less efficient than they were two years ago.

It should be clear to us by now that laws passed in the 1970s increasing energy efficiency were the most sensible way to cure our energy problems. Between 1973 and 1989, our gross national product rose 46% even though energy consumption grew just 8%. If we resumed this effort and eventually used energy as efficiently as the Japanese, we could cut our annual energy costs by $200 billion.

Drilling for oil irresponsibly will only extend our addiction to that fuel. Because the United States has less than 4% of world reserves, compared to the Middle East's 65%, the most promising approach for our nation is to cut waste and renew our investment in clean, unlimited renewable sources, including solar power. Federal investment in solar research and development has been slashed by 80% since 1980, and we are paying dearly because of it.

The United States invented the national park. Have we so lost our way a century later that we are prepared to sacrifice a one-of-a-kind wilderness for oil? Similarly, are we so desperate for a fast buck that other natural treasures in Alaska are for sale to the highest bidder?

In 1867, it was great sport to ridicule Secretary of State William Seward for buying Alaska from Russia for $7 million. Congress went along only reluctantly. Today the foresight of Seward and his allies is clear, and we should aspire to the same foresight in protecting this wondrous place for the benefit of generations yet to come.

Jimmy Carter was President of the United States from 1975 to 1979 and is the founder of The Carter Center in Atlanta.

Donate Now

Sign Up For Email

Please sign up below for important news about the work of The Carter Center and special event invitations.

Please leave this field empty
Now, we invite you to Get Involved
Back To Top