The White House said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) “overreacted” to a presidential announcement about expanding environmental protection in Alaska, according to Politico. The Christian Science Monitor called her response a “primal scream.” However Murkowski’s reaction is described, one thing is clear: The senator was livid when she learned that the Obama administration would protect more of the spectacularly beautiful and pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where some of the nation’s largest oil and gas reserves are located on federal lands.
The conflict began on Sunday January 25, when the White House announced that President Barack Obama would make an official recommendation to Congress to designate an additional 12.28 million acres of the refuge—including its Coastal Plain, where the oil and gas reserves are—as wilderness, the highest level of protection available to public lands. Currently more than seven million acres of the refuge are managed as wilderness under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980. But more than 60 percent of the refuge—including the Coastal Plain—is not protected under that designation.
“Designating vast areas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as Wilderness reflects the significance this landscape holds for America and its wildlife,” Interior Department Secretary Sally Jewell said in the release. “Just like Yosemite or the Grand Canyon, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of our nation’s crown jewels and we have an obligation to preserve this spectacular place for generations to come.”
Within minutes, Murkowski’s office had issued a response headlined, “Obama, Jewell Declaring War on Alaska’s Future.”
“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,” Murkowski said.
She added that the environmental protection plan would “lock up” millions of acres of the nation’s richest oil and natural gas prospects on the Arctic coastal plain and block development of Alaska’s offshore resources, and that moreover it had been done without consultation.
“I cannot understand why this administration is willing to negotiate with Iran, but not Alaska,” Murkowski said. “But we will not be run over like this. We will fight back with every resource at our disposal.”
Murkowski’s resources have political weight. She is chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, which together have oversight of the Interior Department’s underlying legislative authority, nominations and budget.
Scowling and finger-pointing, Murkowski reiterated her opposition to the administration’s protection plan at a press conference, with Sen. Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young standing in solidarity.
“It is a one, two, three kick to the gut of Alaska’s economy,” she said. “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.”
Sullivan joined in with a vow to fight “this outrageous action from President Obama.” Young said the administration’s “latest attacks on Alaska” are “a violation of existing law” and that he’s “already beginning work in the House to ensure this assault is stopped dead in its tracks.”
See the full half-hour press conference below.
Murkowski, Sullivan, Young Vow to Fight Against Pres Obama's Assault on Alaska
On Tuesday January 27 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its revised Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, as required by law. In addition to the wilderness designation, the plan also recommends four rivers—the Atigun, Hulahula, Kongakut, and Marsh Fork Canning—for inclusion into the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The plan will guide the Service’s management decisions for the next 15 years.
If Congress approves the plan, it would be the largest ever wilderness designation since the passage of the visionary Wilderness Act more than 50 years ago. But Murkowski said that is not likely to happen.
“I can almost guarantee that this Congress will not approve placing ANWR into wilderness status,” she told NPR. But the problem, she said, is that once the president has initiated the process, as he has, the area will be managed as a wilderness. Murkowski said so much attention is focused on the polar bears, birds and other “critters” that live in the area, but the people are “more important.”
The newest battle over protecting Mother Earth versus reaping big bucks via the extraction industry comes in the midst of two other Senate-related environmental boondoggles: The Senate is expected to vote this week and approve the hugely unpopular Keystone XL pipeline, a Canadian-owned project that would carry bituminous crude from the Alberta oil sands to the Gulf of Mexico through Indian country and American states. Obama has promised to veto the bill.
And in another battle, San Carlos Apache Tribe has launched a campaign to stop Oak Flat, its historic 2400-acre sacred ceremonial ground in southeast Arizona, from being transferred to international copper mining giant Rio Tinto. Sen. John McCain slipped the land transfer bill into the must-pass National Defense Auhorization Act as a rider, so it passed without tribal or public consultation. Neither did it undergo an environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act. Obama has promised to work with Rio Tinto to try to protect the sacred place.