President Obama is proposing the largest ever wilderness designation in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which would forever put the coastal plain off-limits to oil and gas development.
The White House announced the plan with a YouTube video showing Arctic footage with the president explaining the area’s importance to polar bear, caribou and migrating birds.
“But it’s very fragile,” Obama said. “That’s why I’m very proud my department of Interior has put forward a comprehensive plan to make sure we’re protecting the refuge and that we’re designating new areas, including coastal plains for preservation.”
Alaska’s top elected officials were united in their displeasure with the weekend announcement. ANWR’s coastal plain is coveted by the state and oil industry for its vast resource development potential. Gov. Bill Walker and the state’s congressional delegation issued a joint statement describing the president’s move as a war on Alaska’s future. Walker says it undermines the promises of the statehood compact.
“The plan was we had to live off of our resources and then over time, they’ve taken away a 100 million acres at a time, it doesn’t take long before we’re down to trying to make a living off a small piece of ground,” Walker said. “I’m sorry if I sound frustrated today, but I am. I’m very frustrated. I mean, it’s not a shot across the bow, it’s a little more serious than that.”
Permanent wilderness designation for the coastal plain would require an act of Congress. The environmental lobby has been pressing for that for decades, without success. The likelihood of such a bill passing in this Republican-led Congress is virtually nil. But Sen. Lisa Murkowski isn’t taking the announcement lightly. In a written statement, she says her days of trying to work with the administration are over and she intends to hit back with everything she can. Murkowski chairs the Senate committee that oversees the Interior Department. She also chairs the Appropriations subcommittee that writes its budget.