WASHINGTON — They came, they saw, but they didnâ€™t land.
It turns out that Sundayâ€™s congressional tour of Alaskaâ€™s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), including Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann, ran into some typical North Slope weather. They had to circle around in the air instead of touching down.
â€œFog made it impossible,â€ said Bruce Woods, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman in Anchorage. â€œThatâ€™s not unusual.â€
The 11-member delegation, led by House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio, made it to Prudhoe Bay, but had to be content with an aerial tour of ANWRâ€™s foggy coastal plain.
The experience did not douse Bachmannâ€™s enthusiasm for drilling for oil in ANWR, which she laid out in a conference call with Minnesota reporters on Tuesday.
â€œOil production and the environmental concerns with the wildlife and keeping the tundra area pure and clean, those are not mutually exclusive, they are very compatible,â€ Bachmann said.
The group saw the most wildlife, Bachmann said, right at â€œMile Marker Zeroâ€ in Prudhoe Bay. It was a herd of caribou clustered around a pipeline.
Of the subsequent â€œtwo hour visualâ€ of the National Petroleum Reserve and ANWR, she said, â€œthe tundra looks exactly the same. The terrain looks the same.â€
Opponents of drilling decried the trip as a sham. â€œThey saw nothing,â€ said longtime oil industry critic Chuck Hamel. â€œWhat a wasted trip.â€
But Stephen Miller, Bachmannâ€™s spokesman, said the rough weather conditions bolster the arguments for drilling: â€œThese extreme conditions, present even in the best months of summer, are evidence of the core point members learned firsthand from tours and briefings during the trip: ANWR’s 10-02 (proposed drilling area) coastal region is a remote and desolate site.â€