Many people have wondered: why is the ANWR issue such a goddamned big deal?
It is true that the issue is somewhat heated: there are a good number of liberals who are vehemently opposed to opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling. But with the exception of George W. Bush, there really don't seem to be a whole lot of people who are passionately pro-drilling. And after all, why should there be? If ANWR were drilled, most of its oil would be exported, and therefore would not help to decrease US reliance on foreign oil. In other words, gas prices would not be affected that much. But wouldn't it benefit our economy to drill ANWR? Maybe a bit, but most of these benefits would go to Chevron and British Petroleum, not the average American.
However, there is a certain segment of American society that, for reasons of self-interest, does tend to be passionately pro-drilling: the Alaskans. Alaska is currently facing a fairly major crisis that it would rather not have to deal with. Ever since the North Slope oil boom of the 1970s, the state has been relatively free of economic problems. In fact, not only is Alaska income tax-free, but it is the only state in the union that can actually affoard to hand out free money to its citizens. Oil money earned by the state goes into an account called the Permanent Fund, which is invested in the stock market. Alaska then pays all its residents a sizeable cut of this investment money each year ($1800 per person was the amount last year). But the state's oil revenues have been falling off in recent years, and many fear that the state can no longer affoard to be quite so lavish with its funding. The Alaska legislature does not want to face this problem: an income tax bill was recently struck down by the state Senate. Instead, the legislature has resorted budget cut after budget cut in an effort to dodge the issue.
Alaskans tend to be somewhat spoiled: no Alaskan wants to face the prospect of paying taxes or giving up his Permanent Fund dividend. ANWR would provide a magical solution to the state's problems. If the refuge were opened up for drilling, residents would find their dividends doubled or tripled; while the state would be through with its funding crisis for the time being. Knowing, therefore, that it has everything to benefit from ANWR drilling, the State of Alaska has poured massive amounts of money into promoting the opening of ANWR - more, in fact, than many of the oil companies themselves. As far as the state's residents are concerned, over 75% support drilling in the refuge, according to a 2000 poll.
But, unfortunately, while opening up ANWR would be very nice for Alaska and its residents, the rest of the US would have very little to gain from it. Furthermore short-term benefits provide from the refuge's oil would not compensate for the loss of ANWR as a pristine wilderness area. If the right decisions are made on this issue, Alaska will have to learn to face its financial problems just like all the other states, rather than relying on free money as it has done in the past.