Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Things Get Testy Between Rice Professor and Alaskan Congressman

Oil and gas exploration are hot topics in Texas these days, but on the other side of continent, a debate is still brewing on whether or not to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Historian Douglas Brinkley of Rice University in Houston has written a book about the Alaskan wilderness, and went to Washington Friday to give testimony before the House National Resources Committee.

Brinkley made some remarks about how the arctic regions of Alaska are “a very significant landscape in the psyche of the American people,” and that the areas deserve protection and conservation.

Then Representative Don Young, a vocal proponent of drilling in the refuge, chimed in.

“If you ever want to see an exercise in futility, it’s this hearing,” Young said. “I call it garbage, Dr. Rice.”

“It’s Dr. Brinkley, Rice is a University,” Brinkley retorted. “I know you went to Yuba college and you couldn’t graduate.”

The Congressman, talking over Brinkley, replied, “I’ll call you anything I want to call you when you sit in that chair. You just be quiet.”

Brinkley’s response? “You don’t own me. I pay your salary.”

Things went downhill from there….

The chairman of the committee stepped in, chastising both of them. Young then spoke for a few minutes about his efforts over the last 39 years to open up the area for oil exploration. “The Arctic plain is really nothing,” he said. “The reality is this area should be drilled.”

Towards the end of his remarks, Young lashed at Brinkley again, his voice rising: “When we’re here, we’re the ones that ask the questions. You answer the questions.”

“You made a comment about me, and I’m pissed right now,” Young added.

Brinkley ultimately got in the last word. He said he was surprised at how Young has said there was “nothing in his district:”

“It’s boring. It’s flat. It’s not exciting. I don’t know a representative who doesn’t love their district. Every state in America’s landscape is beautiful if you love it. But some people love money more than their homeland or where they live, and I’m afraid that that’s why this fight has to keep coming up 50 years later, we’re still trying to tell people the Arctic refuge is real. It belongs to the American people.”

Here’s an un-edited version of the four-minute exchange:


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