President Obama will ask Congress to enact further protection’s for the remote wilderness area in Alaska’s northern reaches in an effort to stop any potential oil or natural gas drilling there.
The request, announced Sunday, would put the 1.5 million-acre Coastal Plain area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) off limits to drilling, closing off the last area of ANWR that Congress could consider for oil and gas development, since the rest of the refuge has been protected.
Alaska’s all-Republican congressional delegation immediate lambasted the plan as a “war on Alaska’s future.”
Obama announced the proposal in a video from Air Force One on his trip to India.
“Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuge is an incredible place. Pristine, undisturbed, it supports caribou and polar bears, all matter of marine life, countless species of birds and fish, and for centuries it’s supported many Alaska native communities,” Obama said. “But it’s very fragile.”
He said that congressional action, along with steps the Interior Department is taking on its own to better protect the wilderness in the refuge, would “make sure that this amazing wonder is preserved for future generations.”
“For more than three decades, some voices have clamored to drill for oil in the Coastal Plain — a move that could irreparably damage this ecological treasure and harm the Alaska Native communities who still depend on the caribou for subsistence,” they wrote.
“The United States today is the number-one producer of oil and natural gas in the world, and we import less oil than at any time in almost 30 years,” they continued.
“The Obama administration believes that oil and natural gas resources can be developed safely. Unfortunately, accidents and spills can still happen, and the environmental impacts can sometimes be felt for many years.”
Alaska’s lawmakers and Gov. Bill Walker (I) said Interior is also gearing up this week to block offshore drilling in Alaska’s waters as part of a five-year drilling plan the department will release.
Taken together, the actions set up a high-stakes fight with Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiTrump’s Army pick faces tough confirmation fight Republican Sen. Collins considering run for Maine governor in 2018 Alaska senators push bill to allow Arctic drilling MORE (R), Alaska’s senior senator and chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which has authority over energy development in public land and water.
Alaska lawmakers have pushed for decades to allow the state to lease more land for drilling, including ANWR, which is believed to be the most promising oil prospect in the state.
“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,” Murkowski said in a statement. “It’s clear this administration does not care about us, and sees us as nothing but a territory.”
Sen. Dan Sullivan (R) piled on.
“This outrageous action confirms what most Alaskans have feared — that the Obama administration’s war against Alaska families and the middle class would only intensify under the final two years of President Obama’s tenure,” Sullivan said.
For Walker, the move is especially hurtful when low oil prices have spurred the state to dip into savings to pay for services.
“Having just given to Alaskans the State of the State and State of the Budget addresses, it’s clear that our fiscal challenges in both the short and long term would benefit significantly from increased oil production,” Walker said. “This action by the federal government is a major setback toward reaching that goal.”
Walker said he’d work harder to increase oil and gas drilling on state-owned lands.