ANCHORAGE, Alaska—Several U.S. senators and conservation groups have written a letter to President Obama, urging him to make the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge a national monument -- but critics say ANWR's resources are too important to ignore.
ANWR contains millions of untouched acres and potentially billions of barrels of oil. At present, 92 percent of ANWR is off-limits to oil and gas exploration, but conservationists are hoping to keep the refuge off the table forever.
“Believe that this would send a strong and powerful symbol, message to the Congress, that there should not be drilling in this area,” said Defenders of Wildlife’s Robert Dewey.
The letter to Obama, signed by 25 U.S. senators, asks him to designate ANWR a national monument, which would permanently protect it from drilling unless Congress overturned the designation.
“There are not examples of Congress overturning a presidential designation of monuments,” Dewey said.
But the move isn’t backed by Alaska’s U.S. senators. Neither Lisa Murkowski nor Mark Begich signed the letter, and Begich says the designation would threaten the nation’s energy independence.
“It makes no sense -- why would we continue to import 60 percent of our oil from foreign countries, with a large percentage of it coming from countries that hate us and work against us, when we have it sitting right here in our back yard?” Begich said.
Begich says he will do everything he can to fight the ANWR push, which he calls political game-playing by the letter’s co-author, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman.
This isn't the first time Lieberman has fought to keep drilling out of ANWR, and Begich says he's ignoring what's best for the country.
“All you're doing is putting us at a national-security risk and an economic risk, when you cut off our capacity to consider opportunities for oil and gas exploration,” Begich said.
“You'll see that there's not one Alaska senator on there,” said Kara Moriarty, deputy director of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association. “When you have Outside senators trying to protect us from ourselves, I think it's very frustrating.”
Moriarty says there's a tremendous amount of support in Alaska for developing ANWR.
“We should be allowed the opportunity to go out and explore, and safely develop oil and gas resources for the nation,” Moriarty said.
On Dec. 6, ANWR will celebrate 50 years as a national wildlife refuge -- but whether it will begin the next 50 years as a national monument will be up to the president.
Rep. Don Young says the senators’ request for a national monument is unacceptable. He says he plans to introduce a bill to open up ANWR to drilling.
Contact Jackie Bartz at firstname.lastname@example.org