Thursday, 29 Jun 2000

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn.

Two
weeks ago today began the craziness on Capitol Hill. Alex, Eric, and I rushed from one congressional meeting to another, from one office building to the next, back and forth across the Hill. This is how the day went:

Our first congressional meeting isn’t until 10:00 a.m., but we get up extra early to attend Sen. Frank Murkowski’s (R-Alaska) energy bill hearing. Murkowski wants to reduce our nation’s oil imports from 57 percent of total consumption to 50 percent by the year 2010, claiming this is vital to our national security. His approach to decreasing imports is to increase domestic production, with little mention of reducing consumption through energy efficienc

Before the discussion begins in the Dirksen Senate Building, I approach the panel and introduce myself to Murkowski. We shake hands. I tell him about my mission.

“Hi Senator Murkowski, my name is Jeff Barrie. I just rode my bicycle across America in an effort to protect the Arctic Refuge from oil development.”

He keeps his head and eyes down, seeming to resist making eye contact. But he listens, then politely explains how important oil is to the Alaskan economy. I can only imagine what he’s thinking.

Eric joins me as I take the opportunity to greet another panel member, Colorado Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R), who in 1995 encouraged a certain group of young people to “look beyond the rhetoric and find the truth” about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. His words inspired the quest to Alaska in 1996 that is portrayed in my documentary Arctic Quest: Our Search for Truth. Campbell reminds me that he is on the other side, but shows respect for my effort.

Later in the day, Alex and I encounter Campbell again, this time in the tunnels beneath the Capitol. We jump into his subway car as he makes his way to a vote on the Senate floor. As the three of us sit side-by-side, crammed in the seat, Alex and I thank him for his part in inspiring our life’s mission. He declines to accept a complimentary VHS copy of Arctic Quest.

When Campbell ran for Senate in 1994, he promised the people of Colorado that he would work to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil development. After flip-flopping his position several times, he finally voted in favor of developing the Refuge. He’s since become an ardent supporter of development.

The chance meetings continue throughout the day. Alex recognizes Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson (R) in the halls, makes an introduction, and tells him of our quest and of the 200 letters we’ve collected for him. Thompson too has wavered on this issue, voting on our side in 1995, and against us in 2000. Murkowski puts a lot of pressure on these guys to vote his way.

Later, as we walk to another congressional visit, Alex spots Rep. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), son of the late Morris K. Udall. Mo Udall is the namesake of the wilderness bill that will protect the Arctic Coastal Plain. We are honored, humbled, and amazed at the coincidence and timing of our visit to D.C. and the people we’ve met.

At 11:00 we meet with my representative from home, Steve Kuykendall (R-Calif.), who listens to our message. We ask him to cosponsor HR 1239, the Morris K. Udall Wilderness Bill. He is a believer in Toyota’s hybrid technology that promises to reduce our nation’s demand for petroleum, but he wants to hear from the other side before he makes a decision on the wilderness bill. We leave him with letters from his constituents along with a copy of Arctic Quest, which he promises to watch.

The Morris K. Udall bill currently has 168 cosponsors in the House. The Senate version has 27. This is strong support, especially for a wilderness bill, but we need a majority (that’s 218 in the House and 51 in the Senate) before this bill can move to a vote. Normally it’s not so difficult to move a bill to a vote, but Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) and Sen. Murkowski chair the committees through which these bills must pass on their way to the floor. They have vowed to kill these bills, so we need a majority of cosponsors in order to bypass their committees.

It is not easy gaining cosponsors. Members of Congress want to weigh the evidence on both sides and want to know how their constituents feel about the issue before making a decision. When we make our visits, we leave their staff with a “lobby kit” which includes literature about the Arctic Refuge, the Toyota Prius, and the local Gwichin people; a copy of the bill; a list of cosponsors; a cover letter from Alex and myself; and a pile of letters from constituents. If the representative or senator wants more information, we do our best to get what they need. Then we follow up with phone calls in the weeks after the meeting.

We’d like to have at least one new cosponsor before we leave town next week, but we must be patient. Right now we’re planting seeds. Tomorrow we have another day packed with meetings and a special presentation at the Department of Interior.