Obama tries to put Alaska land off limits to drilling

25 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Obama Moves to Put Much of Refuge Off Limits to Drilling.

(Bloomberg) — President Barack Obama’s administration will take steps to restrict 12 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil and gas exploration, a move immediately denounced by Alaskan lawmakers. A plan released Sunday recommends designating “core areas” of the 19.8 million-acre refuge as wilderness, including its Coastal Plain, according to a statement from the Interior Department. The designation would seal off the area in Alaska’s northeast corner from oil exploration and give it the highest degree of federal protection available to public lands. It supports caribou and polar bears, all manner of marine life, countless species of birds and fish, and for centuries it supported many Alaska native communities.

The nearly 20 million acre refuge has long been a piece of contentious land in the struggle between conservationists and advocates of greater energy exploration in the United States. In a White House video released Sunday, Obama says he is seeking the designation “so we can make sure that this amazing wonder is preserved for future generations.” Bill Walker, reacted angrily at the administration’s moves, and Obama’s efforts to win wilderness designation will likely face stiff resistance in the Republican-controlled Congress. “I have tried to work with this administration — even though they’ve made it extremely difficult every step of the way — but those days are officially over,” said Republican Sen.

While Congress would have to approve any new wilderness designation, Interior will immediately begin managing the iconic area under the highest level of protection the federal government can offer. Democrats and Republicans have fought for 35 years over how to manage ANWR, which boasts significant petroleum reserves but also provides critical habitat for calving caribou, millions of migrating birds, polar bears and other Arctic wildlife. “What’s coming is a stunning attack on our sovereignty and our ability to develop a strong economy that allows us, our children and our grandchildren to thrive,” said Murkowski, who spoke to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell about the department’s plan during a brief phone call Friday, in a statement. “It’s clear this administration does not care about us, and sees us as nothing but a territory. … I cannot understand why this administration is willing to negotiate with Iran, but not Alaska.

Polar bears, which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, den there in winter, birth their cubs and nurse them until spring; it serves as the species’ most important denning habitat along America’s Arctic coast. The new measures reflect the Obama administration’s heightened focus on the Arctic, which is both home to some of the nation’s most exceptional habitat but also under intense pressure from climate change because it is warming faster than other areas.

Then a second effort by Murkowski and the late senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) to open the non-wilderness portion of ANWR to development in 2005 fell just short of the votes needed because of Democratic opposition.

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