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Latta Heads North to Promote Drilling in Alaska’s Wildlife Refuge

July 12, 2008

By Tom Troy, The Blade, Toledo, Ohio

Jul. 12–U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green) will join a contingent of fellow Republican congressmen on a White House-sponsored trip to Alaska next week to promote the idea of drilling for oil in the Arctic tundra.

In doing so, Mr. Latta becomes part of a widening Republican effort to capitalize on Americans’ concern with gasoline prices to win public support of expanding energy resources.

Mr. Latta said America relies so heavily on oil that it will take decades to convert to alternative sources of power.

“In my opinion this is a life or death issue for our country. When you had cheap oil you could say we don’t need to be drilling — we [could] let other countries do it,” Mr. Latta said. “It might take a few years getting things organized, but oil in this country is going to be massively consumed for the next 25 to 30 years.”

“If we had the North Slope open right now at [the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge] you’d be talking about a million barrels a day heading south,” he said. Republicans have criticized President Bill Clinton’s veto of exploring ANWR for oil in 1995.

There is estimated to be 10.3 billion barrels of oil buried below the Alaskan tundra. By comparison, Saudi Arabia, with the world’s largest proven reserves, has 264 billion barrels of oil.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R., Ohio) announced he will lead the “American Energy Tour” to highlight what he called the House GOP’s “all of the above” energy plan to lower gas prices.

“Policies not widely embraced when gasoline was $2 per gallon, such as oil exploration on a tiny patch of Alaska’s vast North Slope, now enjoy the American people’s overwhelming support in the face of $4 per gallon gas,” Mr. Boehner said.

The group will fly on Friday to the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, Colo., where it will tour a charging station for “solar plug-in hybrid vehicles” and battery test labs.

On July 19, they will fly to Fairbanks. On July 20, they will make a one-day trip to Kaktovik and Deadhorse on Alaska’s North Slope on the Arctic Ocean. The group returns to Washington the following day.

The trip will take place on Air Force jets and is being facilitated and paid for by the Department of the Interior, said David Popp, Mr. Latta’s public information officer.

The traveling contingent will have a strong northwest Ohio flavor. In addition to Mr. Boehner, whose district includes part of Mercer County, and Mr. Latta, it will include Rep. Jim Jordan of Urbana in Champaign County, whose district includes Hancock and Allen counties.

Rounding out the delegation are Reps. Michelle Bachmann (Minn.), Gus Bilirakis (Fla.), Mary Fallin (Okla.), Dean Heller (Nev.), Doug Lamborn (Colo.), Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), Steve Scalise (La.), and Adrian Smith (Neb.). Most of the travelers are freshmen congressmen.

New sources of power is a key focus of the presidential contest between Arizona Sen. John McCain, the likely Republican nominee, and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, the likely Democratic nominee.

Mr. McCain has advocated drilling off shore for oil — a switch from his previous opposition, building 45 nuclear power plants, and developing “clean coal” technology. So far he has resisted the pressure of fellow Republicans to endorse drilling in ANWR.

Mr. Obama has been opposed to or highly skeptical of all three strategies, saying he would raise taxes on the wealthy and eliminate tax breaks to oil companies to finance $150 billion of research into solar, wind, and other alternative energy sources.

U.S. Sen. George Voinovich (R., Ohio), yesterday called for exploring ANWR, saying he has voted 10 times to do so, but has been denied repeatedly. He blamed pressure from “extremist environmental groups” for blocking expansion of oil drilling.

Meghan Dubyak, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio), said he is open to supporting offshore drilling but is skeptical about its ability to lower fuel prices. She said he remains opposed to drilling in Alaska because of the threat to the environment and questions about how much oil is available.

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) — the only member of Congress from northwest Ohio who won’t be on the tour — said Republicans are misleading the American public to believe that America’s energy crisis can be solved by drilling for oil in Alaska.

“I think it’s election-year politics. They [Republicans] have not been supportive of our efforts to diversify,” Miss Kaptur said. “I think they’re living in the past.”

Contact Tom Troy at: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058.

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