In his heartfelt eulogy for his friend Ted Stevens, Sen. Daniel Inouye made some farfetched comments about the trans-Alaska pipeline.
I think most Alaskans know that Inouye was pretty far off the mark, but given the circumstances, people probably won't make a big deal out of it. The Hawaii Democrat was not speaking from a prepared text and he was telling stories of appreciation, not giving a lecture on pipeline engineering. He presented a unique version of a much-repeated myth.
"When the oil began flowing through the pipe, it gave out friction, heated that area, the snow melted, grass grew 12 months a year, the elk came by to eat and make love. And the result, the elk flock is now at least five times what it was before the pipeline."
The oil does create friction inside the pipe, but it does not make it warm to the touch, melt snow or allow the grass to grow. The pipeline has nearly four inches of insulation on the above-ground sections to keep heat within. And there are no elk.
Inouye is not the only one who doesn't understand this. The tale has spread far and wide in American politics and people don't want to give it up.
Karl Rove, former deputy chief of staff for former President George Bush, mentioned the basic story of how much caribou love the "warm" pipeline in 2008 during an appearance on Fox with Neal Cavuto.
Referring to caribou, Cavuto said, "They hang a little too close to that pipeline. It bothers me on many levels."
"Well, it's, it's warm," Rove said.
"It is warm. It's very warm," Cavuto said.
"It is warmer, it's ah, you bet. And it's, ah, it's ah, it's attractive to a man. They smell money," Rove said.
During that same campaign season, Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachman said that drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would be a good idea, also citing the warm pipe theory.
"Some suggestions are that perhaps we would see an enhancement of wildlife expansion because of the warmth of the pipeline," she said on a Minnesota radio station in 2008, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
During the 2000 campaign, the first President George Bush was campaigning for his son in Illinois when he said the "Gore-Clinton people" had opposed the Alaska oil pipeline over fears about what it might do to caribou, the State Journal-Register said on Sept. 28 of that year.
Bush continued, saying he was quoting former Ohio Gov. Jim Rhodes: "Look, all them caribou will come up against the pipe, nice warm pipe, they'll make love, and you'll have more caribou. And that's exactly what's happened to the pipeline from Prudhoe Bay."
When Bush was president in 1988, he said, "We were told that if we built that pipeline you wouldn't have any more caribou in Alaska. What do those caribou do? They rub up and down against that warm pipe and have babies."
During the Reagan administration, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, Thomas Niles, spoke about the advantages of opening ANWR to oil development.
"I'm told. . . the caribous actually like the Alaska pipeline because the oil is at 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 Celsius) and it's sort of warm to get under the pipeline when it's 40 below zero (-40C)," the Canadian Press reported on March 12, 1987.
"He also said that in some parts, petroleum is so close to the surface that it seeps out naturally, and "the caribou calve in these areas because insects can't get as close to them - it's sort of a natural insect repellent," the CP said.
In 2001, appearing on ABC's "This Week," George Will and Cokie Roberts were discussing predictions from the past that had not come true.
"Look, 30 years ago, the prediction was drill in Prudhoe Bay and put the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in, the caribou will be depleted because they won't reproduce. Well, they underestimated the sex drive of the caribou. The caribou herds have quintupled in the last five years," Will said.
"They must have loved that--that pipeline. They kind of cozy up to it," said Roberts.
"Exactly. Keeps them warm," Will said.
In 1992, Karna Small Bodman, who had been a senior director and spokeswoman for the National Security Council under Reagan, appeared on CNN and said, "the environmentalists went crazy over the future of the 3,000 caribou up in Alaska for the Alaska pipeline construction, saying it would interrupt their mating routines. Well, now, they snuggle up to the pipeline - it's nice and warm - and they have babies and instead of 3,000 caribou, you've got 13,00 running all over the place.