U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today denounced President Obama and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell for launching an unprecedented assault on Alaska that will have long-lasting effects on the state’s economy and the nation’s energy security.
In coordination with the White House, Secretary Jewell will announce this week – starting today – that she will lock up millions of acres of the nation’s richest oil and natural gas prospects on the Arctic coastal plain and move to block development of Alaska’s offshore resources. The administration is also weighing additional actions in the near future that would prevent new production in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska
“What’s coming is a stunning attack on our sovereignty and our ability to develop a strong economy that allows us, our children and our grandchildren to thrive,” Murkowski said following a brief phone call Friday with Secretary Jewell. “It’s clear this administration does not care about us, and sees us as nothing but a territory. The promises made to us at statehood, and since then, mean absolutely nothing to them. I cannot understand why this administration is willing to negotiate with Iran, but not Alaska. But we will not be run over like this. We will fight back with every resource at our disposal.”
The Interior Department plans to immediately begin managing the 1.5 million acre coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) as wilderness – adding to the 8 million acres of ANWR already designated wilderness. This management status will prohibit even motorized access to the coastal plain.
Wilderness status would permanently place off-limits the United States’ most promising onshore oil prospect and severely restrict access for subsistence hunters and other uses of the area. Under the terms of the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), additional wilderness designations are barred in Alaska without the express approval of Congress.
“This is a clear violation of ANILCA,” Murkowski said. “The Obama administration is breaking a legal commitment the federal government made to Alaska when it agreed to place over 100 million acres into conservation status. Alaska will give no more.”
Alaska already contains more than half of all land in America protected under wilderness status – the federal government’s most restrictive management designation. Congress in 1980 also made a conscious decision to keep the ANWR coastal plain out of wilderness status because of its massive petroleum potential. In 1995, Democratic President Clinton vetoed legislation passed by Congress that would have approved exploration and production on the coastal plain. The Democratic minority in the U.S. Senate also blocked Murkowski and the late Sen. Ted Stevens’ efforts to open the non-wilderness portion of ANWR to development in 2005.
Secretary Jewell also told Murkowski that President Obama plans to indefinitely withdraw areas in the offshore Arctic from oil and gas leasing in the new five-year plan being released later this week, which will effectively ban development in large swaths of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. It is unclear whether these new restrictions will affect areas already under lease by Shell, ConocoPhillips and Statoil.
“These decisions simply cannot be allowed to stand,” Murkowski said. “I have tried to work with this administration – even though they’ve made it extremely difficult every step of the way – but those days are now officially over. We are left with no choice but to hit back as hard as we can.”
Alaska already contains more federally managed land than any other state, including 58 million acres designated as wilderness – an area larger than New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire combined.
“Secretary Jewell will be in Alaska later this month to tout her environmental record – which is astonishing since instead of devoting resources to cleaning up actual contaminated sites on federal land she is spending valuable agency resources figuring out how to lock up additional acreage,” Murkowski said. “I encourage Alaskans to speak out and let her know exactly how we feel about her decisions. I certainly have made my feelings clear and will do so again when she appears before me next month to justify her budget request.”
Murkowski 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.