Friday, 30 Jun 2000

LAKE IN THE HILLS, Ill.

Today I’m writing from my aunt Beth and uncle Chris’s house in Illinois, where they live with their five children. I’m on vacation for a few days, recovering from the tour and getting ready for the next phase. In two weeks I’m going back to Tennessee, to build on the work we accomplished there and to continue fighting to protect the Refuge.

Two weeks ago today, Alex, Eric, and I continued our visits on Capitol Hill:

Today we face one of our most challenging congressional visits. We meet with a legislative aide in the office of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who earlier this year quit his bid for the presidency.

McCain’s aide cuts straight to the chase and explains that although the senator understands this is a national issue, he is inclined to respect the voice of the local native groups in Alaska that support development. He explains how McCain’s office has been heavily lobbied by tribes in Alaska that support development, and when the pro-wilderness groups have come to him, they don’t have the scientific evidence to prove that oil development would indeed have a negative impact in the Arctic Refuge.

The thing that perplexes us the most about this meeting is the aide’s assertion that numerous pro-development tribes from Alaska have lobbied McCain’s office. We’ve been to Alaska and studied this issue extensively. We’ve learned of two opposing native groups that have taken a strong stand on this issue. The Inupiat Eskimos from the North Slope, who reap hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenues from oil development operations, lobby very aggressively for oil development in the Arctic Refuge. On the other hand, the Gwich’in people, who face the loss of their subsistence way of life, adamantly oppose development. The Gwich’in people subsist on a massive porcupine caribou herd that would be directly impacted by the proposed development. We’ve spoken with both groups and have sided with the Gwich’in, whose stance is not based on money or greed, but on a sincere attachment to their cultural integrity and very survival.

Today we’ve learned the importance of being prepared and being thorough. Though we follow our hearts and understand this issue extensively, we also need to be able to substantiate our position. Letters from constituents are meaningful, but “science” makes decisions in many people’s eyes. It is doubtful that we’ll change McCain’s position on this issue, but we need to offer another perspective, one that apparently he hasn’t seen.

We have several more meetings today, but Fridays are quiet on the Hill. Next week will be jam-packed with more congressional visits, then we leave D.C.

Two days ago at our rally on Capitol Hill, we met Stephanie Hannah from the office of Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt. Stephanie came to introduce herself and invite Alex and me to make our presentation to the staff at the Department of Interior. This is our chanc
e to show President Clinton our message and deliver letters to his attention. There are rumors in this town that Clinton is considering declaring the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge a national monument before the end of his term. We want to help him make that decision, which would provide one more significant layer of protection for this wilderness treasure. Vice President Al Gore has pledged to continue working toward protecting the Arctic Refuge in the next administration. Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush, on the other hand, wants to open the Refuge to drilling.

This issue is hot, and we couldn’t have timed our involvement any better. The full impact of our actions is difficult to measure, but we know we got the attention of Congress and the Clinton administration, and we’ve reached millions of Americans with our message. The rest will be resolved soon, we hope.

I’ve enjoyed sharing this week in the life of Arctic Quest. We’d love to hear from you. Please email us at arcticquest@shoutmail.com. You can read more about our adventures crossing America by visiting our website.