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Mr. McLeod goes to Washington

Brodie Thomas
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, June 26, 2008

Washington, DC - Industry, Tourism and Investment minister Bob McLeod told the United States that Arctic natural gas could be a part of the solution to America's energy crisis, and he warned of environmental groups who are lobbying to stop exploration.

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David Krutko, Mackenzie Delta MLA, joined Mr. McLeod in Washington.

His "timely" message was well received according to Mackenzie Delta MLA David Krutko, especially with the recent jump in oil prices.

"I think it has become pretty clear that we have an alternative to the problems they're having," said Krutko from his hotel in Washington DC.

McLeod and Krutko were in Washington last week along with Nunakput MLA Jackie Jacobson to sell their message on Arctic natural gas and raise concerns about southern interference in Northern issues, specifically with the polar bear hunt.

"I guess Americans think they're helping the polar bears by listing them as endangered and we're telling them that the biggest threat to the polar bear is climate change," said McLeod.

In a speech delivered to 34 business people, students, and scholars on Wednesday morning, McLeod tied the loss of polar bear habitat to greenhouse gas emissions. He then touted Arctic natural gas as a clean and viable alternative to heavier fossil fuels such as coal and oil.

He made the argument that halting gas exploration would hurt rather than protect polar bears, and he warned about the actions of certain NGOs such as the World Wildlife Fund.

"Rather than trying to stop Beaufort Sea exploration, and thereby limiting the availability of clean-burning natural gas, perhaps these groups should simply look where they live and in the words of the old climate change mantra, 'think globally and act locally,'" said McLeod in his speech.

Their story was popping up in both Canadian and American newspapers. Jacobson had a tally of the papers that were covering their story.

"So far, the first day we were here we had over 116 newspapers around the world take up our story so millions of people are hearing what we have to deal with," he said.

The three men met with several members of congress and the US ambassador to Canada, Michael Wilson, on their four day visit to Washington.

"We know which congressmen and senators sit on which committees, and we know which ones have the clout," said McLeod.

All three met with Senator Lisa Murkowski and Congressman Don Young, both from Alaska. They also met with two congressmen from Texas, including one who sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee, and with Senator Larry Craig from Idaho.

Craig has come out as an ally for amending the Marine Mammal Protection Act to allow transportation of polar bear trophies back into the US.

Craig sits on the board of the National Rifle Association (NRA), the premier gun lobby in the US. He was in the media spotlight last year after allegations surfaced he solicited sex from a police officer in an airport washroom. Craig denied the allegations but pleaded guilty to a lesser charge.

"He is in support of doing an amendment to the (Marine Mammal Protection) Act. Senator Murkowski, she has been on board with us as well. I think the big thing is going to be trying to get it through their house with an amendment to the act," said Jacobson.

Getting the Marine Mammal Protection Act amended would require either a congressman or a senator to table a bill with the amendment. Both the congress and the senate would have to debate and pass the bill, and it would then require a signature from the President. It could take years.

McLeod said that they were getting requests from other members of congress for meetings, and they were trying to fit in as many as possible.

All three thought that the trip was successful in terms of making their voices heard.

"I've lobbied here before and from what I can see this is probably more productive (than previous trips)," said Krutko.

McLeod said their schedules were incredibly busy, but they were hoping for a bit of downtime, perhaps to tour the White House.

"Everybody wants to go see where the Forest Gump scene was shot. Maybe jump in the water," said McLeod.