With the announcement that he planned to protect more than 12 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
(ANWR), including 1.5 million acres of the Coastal Plain, President Barack Obama threw the first punch in what could be a long and nasty fight with Alaskan state and federal officials.
"The plan was we had to live off of our resources and then over time, they've taken away 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.
"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," said Alaska Gov. Bill Walker
said in a statement released after the White House formally announced its plan on Sunday.
Walker told reporters
that he "did caution" Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in a Sunday phone call that he is a "pretty aggressive person when it comes to protecting my state" and stated "frankly" his belief that the administration was "piece by piece" taking away the state's economy.
The governor, a Republican turned independent, disclosed that he would reach out to other states, particularly those in the West, to determine whether coordinated action was warranted.
The state's congressional delegation has been equally frank in speaking out against the administration's action.
"We have said as a delegation that we will not stand it, we will not tolerate it, we will do everything we can to push back against an administration that has taken a look at Alaska and decided it's a 'nice little snow globe up there and we're going to keep it that way.' That's not how you treat a state. Show us some respect," Sen. Lisa Murkowski
said during a Monday press conference with members of the Alaska congressional delegation.
In addition to ANWR, the Interior Department plans to include withdrawals from Alaska's arctic waters in its 2017-22 offshore leasing plan, and is also considering additional actions that would prevent new production in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), according to the Associated Press
Murkowski has characterized the administration's efforts as a "one, two, three kick to the gut of Alaska's economy."
Murkowski said that Alaska faces a different battle from the one it had in 1995, when President Bill Clinton vetoed an attempt to open up ANWR to drilling. This time around, she said, the Obama administration is "trying to keep this area locked up permanently, indefinitely, forever" to any kind of exploration or development.
She noted that such a designation would result in ANWR being "managed" as wilderness for the foreseeable future, a fact which did not escape the notice of environmental activists who support Obama's executive action.
"This important administrative plan for the Arctic Refuge will guide management decisions for at least the next 15 years, and marks the first time the pendulum has swung in the direction of additional protections for the Refuge since 1980," said a Sierra Club
Appearing today on National Public Radio
(NPR), Murkowski said that Obama's plan has little chance of gaining approval in Congress. As the AP reported, declaring the refuge a wilderness area requires congressional approval, while the Interior Department can act administratively to remove ocean areas from lease sales.
"Keep in mind that what the president has started is a process toward wilderness designation, but, ultimately, it is only Congress that can make that kind of designation," said Murkowski.
She also defended the state's record of balancing development and environmental protection.
"If you look to the safety track record in Alaska, it is a model of environmental standards and safeguards. What people unfortunately relate to is when the Exxon Valdez went aground because of a captain who was drunk," Murkowski told NPR host Renee Montagne.
The debate surrounding development of the refuge has lasted for more than 30 years. The closest supporters of development have come to opening up the coastal plain was in 1987 when President Ronald Reagan's Interior Department sent a report to Congress supporting drilling in the coastal plain.
A Senate committee would grant approval to lease it in March 1989, but the plan effectively died when, little more than a week later, the Exxon Valdez ran aground
, spilling more than 10 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound.
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