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Reform Jewish Rabbis Urge Senate to Oppose Oil Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Saperstein: " Destroying a pristine wilderness is not the way to provide for our vital energy needs."

Contact:Alexis Rice or Michael Weiner (202) 387-2800

WASHINGTON, November 13, 2001- In a letter today to members of the Senate,Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, voiced the Central Conference of American Rabbis' opposition to oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The letter expresses support for "efforts to reduce American dependence on foreign oil," but cautions that, "this can only be accomplished by reducing our dependence on oil in general through the more widespread development and use of renewable energy sources and energy efficiency technologies."

The complete letter follows:

I am writing to reaffirm the categorical opposition of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, representing 1,700 Reform rabbis across North America, to any oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Although we certainly support efforts to reduce American dependence on foreign oil, it is clear that this can only be accomplished by reducing our dependence on oil in general through the more widespread development and use of renewable energy sources and energy efficiency technologies. It cannot be achieved by drilling in a pristine wilderness whose oil supply will, at best, amount to only 3 percent of current U.S. demand.

ANWR's coastal plain, which is being targeted by drilling advocates, encompasses the last five percent of Alaska's vast North Slope not already open to oil exploration, and has enormous ecological, cultural, and spiritual significance. It is the biological heart of the refuge, and is the only place in the United States where the full range of sub-arctic and arctic ecosystems are protected. Furthermore, drilling would seriously threaten the traditional way of life of the indigenous Gwitch'in people, who depend on the coastal plain's porcupine caribou population for both economic subsistence and cultural expression. As they have for millennia, porcupine caribou rely on the coastal plain as a calving ground. Consequently, the U.S. Interior Department has estimated that drilling could result in a 20 to 40 percent decline in the plain's caribou herd, adversely impacting the Gwitch'in people as well.

In the wake of the tragic events of September 11, advocates of drilling in the coastal plain have renewed their argument that such an action is necessary in order to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. The truth, however, is that the oil in the coastal plain will not have any discernible impact on decreasing foreign oil consumption. Destroying a pristine wilderness is not the way to provide for our vital energy needs. Instead, we should be focused on conservation, on increasing fuel economy standards, and on developing and using widely renewable energy sources and energy efficiency technologies. Indeed, the only sure way to reduce our dependence on foreign oil is to reduce our dependence on oil completely. Drilling in the ANWR brings us no closer to that goal.

In Genesis we learn that when God placed the first human beings in the Garden of Eden, God gave humanity a direct role in caring for the surrounding environment: "l'ovdah u'l'shomrah, to till it and tend it" (Genesis 2:15). This directive demands a balanced approach to development, carefully considering the competing needs both to employ the resources that God has provided us and to protect those resources for generations to come. Jewish tradition teaches that our overriding concern must be to protect God's creation from unnecessary destruction. Because drilling in the coastal plain cannot result in any significant reduction on our oil dependence, it would fall into just this kind of illegitimate destruction.

A commitment to Jewish values requires that we speak out against the decimation of a place with such profound environmental significance, especially since it would have little impact on the important goal of increasing our energy independence. I urge you to vote against any amendment or bill that would open the coastal plain of ANWR to oil drilling.

Respectfully,

/s/
Rabbi David Saperstein
Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

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The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaismis the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), whose 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) whose membership includes over 1700 Reform rabbis.



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