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Gathering Place
Hermina Morita

Monday, March 14, 2005

Hawaii’s senators should
vote to protect arctic
from drilling

As early as today, a vote is expected before the U.S. Senate regarding language in the Senate budget bill that would open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil drilling and development.

This is a critical issue because development in this area poses a threat to Alaska's unique coastal plain ecosystem, which includes 135 species of migratory birds, polar bears, musk oxen and the Porcupine Caribou herd, the largest international herd in North America.

This matter concerns us not only because of the possible threat to various plant and animal species, but also the threat to self-determination and self-sustainability of the indigenous Gwich'in and Inupiat Eskimo people of this region. These people have lived in harmony with the caribou, bowhead whales and other native species for hundreds of years, forming a spiritual and symbiotic bond. A threat to Arctic wildlife is also a threat to the independence and unique way of life of these native people.

The Arctic environment is also at risk due to climate change resulting from continued oil and gas development. As snow and ice melts, the bare ground absorbs more heat, which scientists believe will contribute to the possible extinction of certain Arctic species and lead to thinning sea ice, melting glaciers and thawing permafrost. Climate change also poses a danger to islands in the Pacific, such as Hawaii, due to higher sea levels and increased storm frequency and intensity over time.

Our state has traditionally been supportive of the right to self-determination and self-sustainability for our own indigenous peoples -- the Kanaka Maoli -- it is our hope that our Hawaii senators, Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka, will continue to extend this same support to our neighbors in the Arctic.

It is our hope that the Senate's vote on this matter not be at the expense of other native peoples or based on a flawed national energy policy. Oil drilling in ANWR represents the continuation of over-consumption by the United States of finite resources without regard to the impacts on other areas or people of the world. In the larger global picture, the United States must lead the world in seeking solutions surrounding climate change issues or we will be directly responsible for the genocide of indigenous cultures as the land base and natural resources, the root and foundation of self-determination, of indigenous cultures cease to exist.

Further, the moral issues and consequences of the Bush national energy policy is alarming as we expend our financial resources and put at risk many American lives in the Middle East. The United States has the technology and resources to move toward a clean energy future. A vote against continued oil drilling in this area by our U.S. senators is critical at a time when we must separate "red herrings" from our national energy policy debate. ANWR is a red herring that will not enhance the U.S. position to build energy security or a sustainable solution that we can embrace for future generations.

We respectfully urge our Hawaii senators to vote against the allocation of funds for Arctic drilling in the Senate budget.

Rep. Hermina Morita is chairwoman of the House Committee on Energy & Environmental Protection. A Democrat, she represents District 14 (North-East Kauai).

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