The battle over the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge turned bitter yesterday as environmentalists accused Interior Secretary Donald Hodel of using distortions and omissions in his call for oil drilling in the refuge.
Members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee sprang to Hodel's defense, with Sen. Daniel J. Evans (R-Wash.) accusing a leading foe of oil exploration of having "arrogance of the ultimate proportion."
David Prosperi, a spokesman for Hodel, said the environmentalists were having "temper tantrums" and suggested that their comments before the Senate panel were intended to generate donations to their organizations.
The fireworks began when Jay Hair, president of the National Wildlife Federation, said there were "absolute misrepresentations and lack of information" in the Interior Department study supporting drilling in the refuge's 1.5 million-acre coastal plain.
"Donald Hodel's report has presented this society with a perfect reason not to trust him or his stewardship of the nation's resources," Hair told the committee.
This prompted Sen. James A. McClure (R-Idaho) to say, "Your organization and you personally are not above scare tactics . . . misrepresentation of facts and distorting scientific facts to get your point across."
Evans said, "Mr. Hair, I find it most repulsive for you to be so arrogant to say you represent the public interest . . . . It's arrogance of the ultimate proportion . . . . I believe Mr. Hodel believes he is representing the public interest."
Hair said he "would not imply that Donald Hodel is personally dishonest. But his record shows his stewardship of Department of Interior conservation programs is significantly wanting."
Gaylord A. Nelson, counselor to the Wilderness Society and a former Democratic senator from Wisconsin, said that among interior secretaries he has seen, Hodel and James G. Watt are the two "least sensitive to the conception of conservation."
"They want to exploit everything in sight," said Nelson. "The money comes first and the integrity of the environment comes last."
The hearing allowed environmental groups to reiterate their opposition to Hodel's call for Congress to repeal a 1980 law that bars petroleum activities in the refuge.
Hodel has said national security and rising dependence on imported oil require carefully controlled development of the coastal plain, 70 miles east of the Prudhoe Bay field that supplies about 20 percent of U.S. needs. The Interior Department study cites a 5 percent chance the refuge could yield 9 billion barrels of oil, rivaling Prudhoe Bay.