Alaska’s all-Republican delegation vowed Monday to fight tooth and nail against President Obama’s proposed drilling restrictions in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
The lawmakers lambasted the plan, calling it symptomatic of an administration that doesn’t care about Alaska or about Congress.
“ ‘King George’ Obama really believes he doesn’t have to acknowledge laws that were passed by the Congress,” joined Rep. Don YoungDon YoungA guide to the committees: House Trump, GOP set to battle on spending cuts Alaska lawmakers mull legislation to block Obama drilling ban MORE (R-Alaska). “Disgusting for the nation, disgusting for the people. This man, this person, has gone completely wacko.”
The remarks came during a news conference convened a day after the Obama administration announced that it would propose to Congress a wilderness designation — the most protective federal land designation — for the 1.5 million-acre Coastal Plain.
Congress set the area aside decades ago for potential oil and natural gas development.
In the decades since, the prospect of ANWR drilling has triggered national debate multiple times. Oil interests see the area as one of the most promising untapped oil reserves in the country. Environmentalists, meanwhile, see one of the last great wild places — and an opportunity to curb domestic oil production.
The Interior Department announced Sunday it would, without congressional approval, immediately start managing 98 percent of ANWR’s nearly 20 million acres as wilderness while Congress decides whether to expand the wilderness designation beyond the current 7.16 million-acre boundary.
But Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) said the legislation would never get through Congress.
“It’s not going to happen in this Congress,” Sullivan said. “So they’re going to move forward with an executive order to do it anyways.”
Sullivan compared it with Obama’s controversial action to reduce deportations of certain undocumented immigrants.
“This is a classic President Obama tactic: release a plan with no chance of passing the Congress. Meantime, take legally dubious action through executive action to do what no Congress would do.”
Murkowski said she heard about the action Friday from Tommy Beaudreau, chief of staff to Interior Secretary Sally JewellSally JewellOvernight Energy: New push for GOP to embrace carbon tax Obama Interior chief slams Trump’s decision on Dakota Access Overnight Energy: Rough hearing for Tillerson MORE, who did not speak to Murkowski until Murkowski called her.
In addition to the ANWR plan, Murkowski said, the administration is planning two more actions that would hurt Alaska’s oil industry.
This week, the Interior Department will release a five-year plan for offshore drilling that will close off some of the Arctic Ocean waters north of Alaska that had previously been open for leases, Murkowski said.
The agency will also impose onerous restrictions on a permit to build a road through National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, all but preventing oil drilling there.
Interior declined to comment on the offshore drilling and petroleum reserve plans.
“It is a one, two, three kick to the gut of Alaska’s economy,” Murkowski said. “We’re just going to kick you while you’re down, and then we’re going to kick you again, and then we’re going to kick you one more time just for good measure.”
Alaska depends on oil fees for about 90 percent of its state budget. But with oil prices at the lowest point in nearly six years, Gov. Bill Walker (I) said he’ll have to dip into savings to fund services, the state facing a projected $3.5 billion deficit.
Murkowski, who also chairs the Appropriations Committee subpanel for Interior’s budget, said the delegation would “utilize every single tool” it has to fight Obama’s action.
She didn’t say exactly what she would do, in particular declining to comment on the possibility of attaching an amendment to the Keystone XL approval bill that is expected to pass the Senate easily.
“We’re going to fight back, and it’s going to be a coordinated fight. There’s no daylight among the delegation on this,” she said.
In his own statement, Sen. James InhofeJames InhofeA guide to the committees: Senate GOP considers ways to ‘modernize’ endangered species law GOP bill would eliminate Consumer Financial Protection Bureau MORE (R-Okla.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, called the ANWR move a power grab of millions of acres of Alaska’s land.
“The president once again ignored the law and trampled on states’ rights in order to solidify his legacy with his liberal base,” he said.
Rep. Rob BishopRob BishopA guide to the committees: House Public lands dispute costs Utah a major trade show House votes to overturn Obama drilling rule MORE (R-Utah) called the president’s actions both hypocritical and irrational.
“This doesn’t just hurt Alaskans, it hurts all Americans in that it stifles opportunities for a better way of life and sends a message to our friends and foes across the globe that our president is more interested in appeasing some of the most extreme elements of his party rather than improving economic outcomes for our own citizens,” he said.
Democrats praised the president for protecting a pristine natural area.
“We should not open up the pristine Arctic refuge to drilling just so oil companies can sell that oil to foreign nations,” Sen. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyA guide to the committees: Senate GOP sets sights on internet privacy rules Overnight Tech: GOP chairman to propose high-skilled visa overhaul | Zuckerberg's 5,700 word letter | Tech lobbies gear up ahead of internet fight MORE (D-Mass.) told reporters Monday.