Both senators, in statements you can read online (Inouye's here and Akaka's here) say their main reasoning is that the native people in Alaska are in favor of drilling. Self-determination.
Akaka says, "To me, ANWR is really about whether or not the indigenous people who are directly impacted have a voice about the use of their lands...They have the greatest incentive of anyone to preserve their environment, including the plants and animals that live on the coastal plain, in order to maintain their way of life."
Inouye writes, "When 229 out of 230 tribes tell me they want it, I am ready to respond."
Now I've done some research on the effects of oil drilling on the environment, and it's not pretty. There's a huge amount of waste water (that's supposed to be pumped back into the earth but in places like Ecuador was just left in big, sludgy pools) they have to burn off "waste" gases (full of toxins), and either big pipelines (that can leak) or tankers (that can leak --remember the Exxon Valdez?) have to bring the stuff back to all the thirsty SUVs down here. It's a dirty, dirty business.
But it's hard to argue with the Native Americans. Victims of relentless genocide ever since their land was "discovered" by the Europeans, subjected to horrors like smallpox-infected blankets and systematic kidnapping to "educate" their children, the indigenous people of this land have not had a good go of it. Like everyone else around the world exposed to the American consumer culture, why wouldn't they want tv (with 125 cable channels), convertibles and cell phones that you can day-trade on? And if you're sitting on black gold, texas T, why not cash some of that in?
The self-determination argument slays me. For centuries, colonists used the argument, "We know what's better for you, do as we say," to justify not just economic exploitation but cultural sublimation --you must dress, eat, worship, communicate and work like us. They used arguments of greater intelligence, civilization and morality to justify their position.
On what grounds now could I possibly tell someone that they shouldn't have the right to make their own decisions?
Of course, it's not that simple. I try all the time to get people to stop smoking, for example, because not only is it awful for the smoker but it's a hazard to those around her, too. And I support any legislation that would curtail people's ability to smoke --banning it in restaurants, taxing it, eliminating advertising. if i could bat people's cigarette's out of their hands (without getting beat up) I don't know, maybe i would.
And if I could single-handedly stop drilling in ANWR, I think I would do that, too. I would (in a scenario where I was not only unilaterally powerful but had lots of money and resources) give the native Alaskans so much more than a tiny percentage of as-yet-unknown oil profits --I'd provide education (egads), explore and create alternative industries, introduce them to inhabitants of other oil-rich regions like Nigeria, Ecuador and Iraq so they could see the impact the extraction industry has on a place (often they end up being poorer than non-oil rich regions) and then, fully armed with a big-picture perspective on the global issues, I would let them make their decision.
So long as they made the right choice.
The truth is, I don't know what to think. As much as I dislike casinos --not just because they are dens of vice and godless sin but because they're tacky and depressing and cliched-- I vote in support of Indian gaming in California. Why? Because it's been very successful in bringing revenue to tribes that haven't even gotten fair land-use payments from the federal government in 100 years.
Of course, I don't think the Republicans are the ones to go around arguing self-determination. They're the ones running around overthrowing governments (not just in America!) and taking away civil rights of everyone whose name isn't Halliburton. or ExxonMobilStarbucksWalmart. That's not the point, of course, since they actually are in alignment with the Alaskan tribes.
Or maybe it is the point, since Republicans and big oil would be clamoring to drill no matter what the tribes thought. Maybe self-determination is a red herring, a smokescreen that Big Money is using to get what it wants again, to paint it in a "people care" fuzzy light.
And then what of the tribes, the people living on the land? Are they just going to get screwed again? Will they be happy buying processed food with their monthly checks from the oil companies (as is apparently the case with many post-Exxon Valdez)? If they are, is that okay?
I, for one, am torn.