The Obama administration is moving to block oil and gas production along a major part of Alaska’s northern coastline, setting off another energy battle with Republican lawmakers.
On Sunday, President Barack Obama announced plans for the Interior Department to designate 12 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, including its coastal plains, for conservation. The possibility of such a move has been the cause of a lengthy battle between environmentalists and the energy industry for some time.
Though his administration could take some steps immediately, the plan would need the approval of Congress – which Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, made clear won’t be happening.
She called the Obama administration’s move a “stunning attack” on Alaska’s economy.
“It’s clear this administration does not care about us, and sees us as nothing but a territory,” Murkowski said in a statement.
“I cannot understand why this administration is willing to negotiate with Iran, but not Alaska,” she said. “But we will not be run over like this. We will fight back with every resource at our disposal.”
In a video posted on Sunday, Obama said his administration will set the land aside for conservation – and that he’ll ask lawmakers to give the region the United States’ highest designation for land protection.
“I’m going to be calling on Congress to make sure that they take it one step further, designating it as a wilderness so that we can make sure that this amazing wonder is preserved for future generations,” he said.
But Alaskan leaders said they’re angry about the plan to protect a land that’s important to bird, caribou and polar bear populations, with independent Gov. Bill Walker saying he could speed up state land leasing for oil exploration as a result.
Murkowski, as the Senate’s energy chairwoman, is best positioned to fight Obama’s proposal on Capitol Hill. But other Alaska Republican lawmakers criticized the administration’s move, too.
“It is just one more example of President Obama thumbing his nose at the citizens of a sovereign state – and will put Alaska and America’s energy security in serious jeopardy,” freshman Sen. Dan Sullivan said.
“This callously planned and politically motivated attack on Alaska by the Obama administration is akin to spitting in our faces and telling us it’s raining outside,” said Rep. Don Young.
“As if on command from the most extreme environmentalist elements, this President and his team of D.C. bureaucrats believe they alone know what’s best for Alaska, but this brazen assault on our state and our people will do the complete opposite,” he said.