Local groups protest Alaskan drilling

Regina Martinez The Daily Illini From left, members of Students for Environmental Concerns, Rebecca Russell, junior in ACES, Shannon OLaughlin, sophomore in ACES, Joe Teng, junior in ACES and Drew Thomas, junior in LAS, listen to speakers on the quad Wednesday who were urging the audience to help save the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by voting against the budget reconciliation.

Regina Martinez The Daily Illini From left, members of Students for Environmental Concerns, Rebecca Russell, junior in ACES, Shannon O’Laughlin, sophomore in ACES, Joe Teng, junior in ACES and Drew Thomas, junior in LAS, listen to speakers on the quad Wednesday who were urging the audience to help save the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by voting against the budget reconciliation.

By Danielle Gaines

Community and student groups hosted a protest on Wednesday, organized by the Alaska Coalition, to oppose proposed federal budget changes.

The groups met on the Quad and cited several concerns with the 2006 federal budget reconciliation legislation. Expected cuts in the food stamp program and allowing oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are among the groups’ concerns. All speakers denounced the proposed increase in military spending.

“The fact that the military budget is increasing by $200 million and that the domestic programs are being reduced by $173 million affects student loans (and) education, and will have a lot of dramatic long-term effects,” said Jim Beauchamp of the Prairie Group of the Sierra Club.

Carl Estabrook, a visiting professor to the University, spoke on military spending in more legal terms. The United States never formally declared war, but by continuing to appropriate funds for the war effort, Congress has functionally approved the U.S. invasion of Iraq, he said. Estabrook urged citizens to voice opposition to the legislation.

“The Supreme Court decided in the Vietnam era that appropriating money is as good as declaring war, so if one thinks there is something wrong with this war, the only legal way to stop it is to cut off the money,” he said.

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    Estabrook said he is opposed to increased military spending for several reasons, including the possible repercussions of an ongoing war in Iraq.

    “I think the greatest thing jeopardizing our security right now is spending money in Iraq,” he said. “The United States has produced through its attacks in Iraq a worldwide increase in terrorism.”

    Speakers also explained the impact of federal cuts on the Champaign-Urbana area. Jessica Culp of the Eastern Illinois Foodbank said that decreased farming subsidies will put a strain on the food banks already limited supply of U.S. Department of Agriculture commodities.

    “Cuts will make it harder for our recipients and for us,” Culp said. “We are strained already. We currently distribute 4.5 million pounds of food each year, and we really need to be distributing over 18 million pounds.”

    In addition to discussing the budgetary legislation, speakers addressed the proposed $2.4 billion budget revenue goal set for the House and Senate State Energy Committees. Proposed oil exploration in Alaska is expected to create the budget revenue.

    “If students care about the outdoors and their grandchildren, they need to voice their opinion in opposition of this legislation,” Beauchamp said.

    The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge holds only 0.8 percent of the world’s oil supply and would decrease the cost of gas by less than a penny per gallon, Beauchamp said.

    “If we would just economize on our oil usage – drive cars with better mileage – we could completely compensate for any benefit of drilling in the (Alaska National Wildlife Reserve),” he said.

    Allison Luzader, sophomore in ACES, spoke out against drilling in Alaska. Luzader is aiding in a postcard campaign directed towards Rep. Timothy Johnson, R-15. Students can contact her through email at [email protected] to fill out a postcard or write a letter.

    “This is a last chance situation,” she said. “We either get our representative to vote against it now, or they will be able to begin drilling.”

    The budget reconciliation vote could come any day, Johnson said in a written statement.