AS REP. Bob Latta jets off today with 10 Republican colleagues on a "fact-finding" trip that will take them to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory near Denver and then to Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, we encourage him, without great hope, to keep his mind as well as his eyes open.
Sadly, where ANWR is concerned, the freshman congressman representing Ohio's 5th District appears as willfully blind as his father, Del Latta, who in 1974 was President Richard Nixon's last and bitter-end defender during impeachment hearings by the House. What else could explain his dismissive comment on the eve of the Alaska junket that "we're talking about tundra"?
If Mr. Latta were interested in facts instead of promoting the GOP's shortsighted campaign for aggressive drilling, he might already be aware that ANWR is, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, "America's finest example of an intact, naturally functioning community of arctic/subarctic ecosystems."
Will he see that the tundra he dismisses is home to hundreds of plants specially adapted to the long, bitterly cold Arctic winters and short, vibrant summers? Will he recognize that scores of animals, including musk ox, wolverine, caribou, Arctic fox, Arctic grayling, and polar bears, could not survive without the tundra?
Does he know that the "couple of caribou" drilling proponents scoff at is actually a herd of more than 100,000 for which ANWR's narrow coastal plain is a critical calving area?
Does he know that more than 100 species of birds also depend on the coastal area, including as many as 300,000 snow geese that need the tundra's nutrients to make their annual flight to California's Central Valley?
Will he dismiss the devastating impact that oil exploration, drilling, and transportation will have on this delicate ecosystem?
And, most importantly, will Mr. Latta and his colleagues acknowledge that use of even the most generous estimates of ANWR's reserves would have scant impact on America's dependence on foreign oil?
Even if drilling were to begin today, not an extra drop of gasoline from the oil could be expected to reach domestic pumps for nearly 10 years. All of the oil in ANWR wouldn't make a dime's worth of difference in the price of gasoline, and tapping these unproven reserves does nothing to solve America and the world's greater energy problem - that an alternative to petroleum must be found, and soon.
We wish we could say that the answer to any of these questions was "yes," or even "maybe," but the salient fact about this tour is that it's a waste of jet fuel because Mr. Latta has already made up his mind. He'd rather play politics, feeding on Americans' fears and desire for a quick fix, rather than make hard choices.
More and more, Bob Latta is showing himself to be a man of limited vision, so if, when he views ANWR's stark beauty, he sees wasteland fit only to be dotted with oil platforms and criss-crossed by roads and pipelines, we won't be surprised.