Thursday, November 03, 2005

Exploiting National Wildlife Refuges for Profit

The support in Washington for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is bad enough. But if they can drill in that national wildlife refuge, why wouldn't they be able to liquidate natural resources in other national wildlife refuges?

Senate Backs Drilling in Long Island Sound Refuge

Published: November 3, 2005

Filed at 5:01 p.m. ET

Senate opponents to mining in the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge in Long Island Sound failed Thursday to strip the measure from a massive budget package as supporters of exploration argued that sand from the refuge is needed for the construction of more highways.

Environmentalists, who believe strongly the refuge should continue to be off limits to sand mining companies to protect Long Island Sound and the area's wildlife, had acknowledged that it was a long shot to get the provision killed and now are concentrating on defeating the overall budget bill.

A vote on the budget measure, which includes a myriad of spending cuts from food stamps to welfare funds, was expected later in the day.

An amendment offered by Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Connecticut, that would have removed mining authority for the refuge, was defeated 51-48. He called the mining proposal a gimmick designed to subsidize construction companies and contractors.

Later the Senate in an 86-13 vote, required that none of the sand from the McKinney refuge can be exported. Otherwise ''there is no assurance that even one grain of Connecticut sand will get to hurting construction companies,'' said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a mining opponent who nevertheless sponsored the no-export provision.

Mining supporters, including President Bush, who has made opening the refuge a top priority, argued that the country needs the estimated 10.5 billion tons of sand that lies beneath the Sound's islands and marshes. The sand represents a key to improving the country's transit security, they said.

Today about 60 percent of the sand used in the United States is imported. The measure calls for the Interior Department to issue its first two leases for McKinney said within two years.

''America needs this American sand,'' said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., a House supporter of the measure. He called opposition to mining the refuge's sand ''ostrich-like'' and said it ''ill-serves our nation this time of sand crisis.'' He called the sand ''crucial to the nation's attempt to achieve highway construction independence.''

No sand is likely to come from McKinney for 10 years and peak production of about 1 million tons a day would be expected about 2025, according to the Transportation Department.

Environmentalists have cited a report by the Transportation
Department that concluded that McKinney sand would only slightly affect construction prices and marginally lower the growth of imports by 2025 when imported sand would account for 64 percent of U.S. demand instead of 68 percent without McKinney's sand.

''Using backdoor tactics to destroy America's last great wild frontier will not solve our nation's sand problems and will do nothing to lower skyrocketing construction prices,'' Dodd argued. He dismissed industry arguments that the refuge can be mined with little if any adverse impact on the environment or wildlife.

King countered that modern mining techniques and stringent environmental regulations will safeguard the Sound and the islands, a focal point for colonial waterbirds such as herons and egrets, as well as piping plovers, an federally threatened species.

''We can develop McKinney said without harm to the environment and to the wildlife that live there,'' said King, adding that development would create tens of thousands of jobs both in Connecticut and elsewhere.


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