President Barack Obama said Sunday that he planned to ask Congress to declare much of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) as wilderness, including its 1.5-million-acre coastal plain, an area on Alaska’s North Slope suspected to contain vast reserves of oil and gas.
The designation would forever prevent exploration and production on the coastal plain, but Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said the idea would be dead on arrival in the Republican-led Congress and Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee agreed.
Without an act of Congress, the Sunday announcement will have little practical effect in the way that the coastal plain is managed — there would still be no drilling, while subsistence hunting and fishing could occur as before. But the decision appears to send a signal about Obama’s views toward development in the Arctic, and other upcoming decisions may have more immediate effects on development in the far north.
Inhofe said, “The President’s announcement to lock up millions of acres and 40 billion barrels of untapped resources in Alaska will greatly hinder economic opportunity across the state and further hamper America’s pursuit for energy independence. It’s one thing for the President to say he is for building a strong middle class, but his policies are working against his own rhetoric.” Inhofe said.
“Most alarmingly, the President once again ignored the law and trampled on state’s rights in order to solidify his legacy with his liberal base. With the Department of Interior’s plan to immediately place millions of acres of ANWR off limits, the nation is seeing federal government overreach at its finest. This action will not be tolerated in the new Congress. I am proud we have Senator Dan Sullivan serving on the Environment and Public Works as Subcommittee Chairman on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Water. I will do everything in my power to support Sen. Sullivan and the work of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee as well as Chairman Lisa Murkowski in the fight to rein in the Obama Administration.”
Murkowski and the rest of the Alaska’s congressional delegation, along with Gov. Bill Walker, reacted strongly to the symbolism in the administration’s announcement. In a joint statement, they said the move — and two other anticipated announcements involving offshore drilling in the Arctic and development in National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska — amounted to “declaring war on Alaska’s future,” according to the Alaska Dispatch News.
Murkowski, in a Sunday telephone interview from her home in Washington, D.C., called the administration’s moves a “trifecta” with a cumulative impact that could harm Alaska’s economy. Even though the wilderness bid will likely fail in Congress, it will reinvigorate an environmental cause that had slipped from the national consciousness, she told the Alaska Dispatch News.
Since 1980, when the Arctic refuge was expanded from 9 million acres to 19 million acres by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, there’s been a stalemate over the coastal plain. The 1980 law left the plain in limbo, with congressional action required to open it to development or seal it permanently. Click here for more from the Alaska Dispatch News.
The Daily Caller quotes Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell saying, “Designating vast areas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as Wilderness reflects the significance this landscape holds for America and its wildlife.” Click here for more from The Daily Caller.