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Obama Proposal would Close the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to Drilling

Setting off a political firestorm in the words of one journalist, President Obama proposed to designate most of the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness, angering congressional Republicans.
January 27, 2015, 6am PST | Irvin Dawid
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"The Interior Department announced on Sunday (Jan. 25) that it was proposing to preserve as wilderness nearly 13 million acres of land in the 19.8 million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, including 1.5 million acres of coastal plains that is believed to have rich oil and natural gas resources," writes Amy Harder, who reports on energy policy for The Wall Street Journal. "The efforts are drawing a strong rebuke from congressional Republicans."

The Sierra Club's press release notes that the "recommendation establishes the Obama administration’s support for Wilderness protection for the Coastal Plain – reversing the Reagan administration position in favor of oil and gas development."

Alaska's Republican delegation of Sens. Lisa MurkowskiDan Sullivan, and Rep. Don Young vowed "to fight the administration’s moves from [Murkowski's] positions heading both the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the appropriations subcommittee responsible for funding the Interior Department," reports Harder.

“It’s clear this administration does not care about us, and sees us as nothing but a territory,” Ms. Murkowski said in a statement Sunday after speaking by phone with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Friday.

As noted here recently, of all the energy-producing states, Alaska is the most dependent on revenue from resource extraction to balance its budget, with "taxes on oil production have covered more than half the total budget" in recent years. It was looking at a $3 billion budget deficit, 22 percent of its $13.5 billion budget.

Permanently setting the ANWR land off limits to drilling, including parts of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, would cause dire, permanent impacts to the oil and gas dependent state, claim opponents of the wilderness designation.

Both Murkowski and Jewell are guests of broadcast journalist Judy Woodruff on the PBS NewsHour on Monday (Jan. 26) might. Woodruff's opening comment to Jewell after having spoken with Murkowski: "It’s clear there’s a firestorm the administration has set off."

A visibly angry Murkowski can be seen in the Politico Pro article. She declared the president's move "a stunning attack on our sovereignty," writes energy reporter Andrew Restuccia. White House counselor John Podesta, who oversees climate change and energy policy for the president, indicated that she was overreacting.

To designate the 12.28 million acres as wilderness will require congressional approval, not likely to happen. However, "the proposed move puts the area into a state of de facto designation as wilderness and would prevent drilling, an Interior Department spokeswoman said," writes Harder. 

Drilling in the Arctic Refuge, established by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1960, is prohibited "based on a law passed in 1980," notes Harder. "Sunday’s announcement would provide another layer of protection."

Subscriber-only content to The Wall Street Journal article should be available to non-subscribers for up to seven days after Jan. 26.

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Published on Monday, January 26, 2015 in The Wall Street Journal
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