Murkowski Swings at Obama’s Arctic Wilderness Plan But Misses

Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Wednesday failed to land her first counterpunch at the Obama administration’s new Arctic conservation policies.

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The Senate rejected an amendment that would’ve put a time limit on wilderness study areas. Only Congress can permanently designate land as wilderness. But as Murkowski explained on the Senate floor, once the president recommends wilderness status, the government manages the land as wilderness anyway.

“In fact many areas have been managed as de facto wilderness for decades, because the Congress has not acted,” she said.

The amendment she proposed for the Keystone pipeline bill would’ve removed that protection if Congress didn’t approve a request within a year. The amendment would’ve started the clock on the 12 million acre wilderness area President Obama proposes for the Arctic Refuge. It also would’ve affected a wilderness study area inside the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and other areas in a dozen Western states.

Fifty senators voted for it, but it needed 60 to pass.

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Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage. Reach her at

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