"They're at it again."
Congressman John Peterson was speaking out against the lawsuit filed by the Allegheny Defense Project, Sierra Club, and other groups against the Allegheny National Forest regarding oil and gas drilling operations.
He gives the groups credit, but not approval.
"The Sierra Club and groups like ADP have been immensely successful in America," Peterson said. "Unfortunately, they have been very successful in locking up resources."
He said that success is a significant "part of the reason we are approaching 70 percent dependence on foreign oil."
Those groups have also contributed to high energy prices, Peterson said, and to economic difficulties for working families. "The highest penalty is to the working class," he said. "They are the ones that drive the farthest to work and live in older homes."
Peterson knows what it's like to experience opposition from groups like Sierra Club. He has long been a proponent of increasing domestic output and reducing dependence on foreign oil. In particular, Peterson has introduced amendments and proposed legislation that would open the outer continental shelf to drilling for oil and natural gas.
"I'm never surprised," Peterson said of the lawsuit. "They're pretty adamant against fossil fuels. There's never any produced that they're not against."
That the nation is too dependent on foreign oil is not his only argument against restricting drilling on the ANF.
"We do not own the minerals," he said. "It's private sector property. They have a right to harvest it."
That situation creates a possible solution for environmental groups.
"They raise billions of dollars," Peterson said. "If they are really serious they ought to raise the money to buy the rights to areas they think are pristine."
While organizations could buy the subsurface mineral rights to the forest and stop the drilling, Peterson said many national public lands were not created with environmental conservation in mind.
"A lot of the land was originally put away for resources for America," Peterson said.
He said he is concerned that groups like those involved in the lawsuit will gain even more power when President-elect Barack Obama assumes the office.
"Unfortunately, we're entering a new administration that is pretty much part and parcel of those organizations," he said.