President Obama is picking a big fight with oil-lovin’ Republicans, and the green community is delighted. Seems he’s still feeling pugnacious after his State of the Union address last week.
For more than 30 years, conservationists have pushed for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to be permanently protected from oil and gas development. Obama now says he wants to do just that.
The Obama administration will propose setting aside more than 12 million acres in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness, the White House announced Sunday, halting any chance of oil exploration for now in the refuge’s much-fought-over coastal plain
More details from the Los Angeles Times:
The plan would permanently bar drilling and other forms of development in the … refuge’s coastal plain, a narrow strip between the Brooks Range mountains and the Arctic Ocean where caribou give birth. The area, estimated to hold 10.3 billion barrels of oil, is home to more than 200 species, including polar bears, wolverines, musk oxen and thousands of migratory birds. …
Although the coastal plain has been off-limits to development for years, the White House move marks a new front in the long-running political and environmental battle over whether to authorize oil production in the refuge. It puts the Interior Department on record in favor of keeping it as undeveloped wilderness, despite years of angry demands from Alaska lawmakers to open the area to drilling.
The Post again:
The move marks the latest instance of Obama’s aggressive use of executive authority to advance his top policy priorities. While only Congress can create a wilderness area, once the federal government identifies a place for that designation, it receives the highest level of protection until Congress acts or a future administration adopts a different approach.
The president says he’s calling on Congress to designate the area as wilderness. The current GOP-controlled Congress will of course do no such thing. Republicans, especially those from Alaska, are irate about Obama’s move.
Obama could at some point decide to designate the area as a national monument, which would also protect it — and which he can do without congressional approval. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush each created large national monuments during their presidencies, under the authority of the Antiquities Act. (As it happens, Rep. Don Young [R-Alaska] introduced a bill earlier this month to abolish presidents’ authority to designate national monuments.)
More immediately, the Obama administration will announce other plans that could curtail oil and gas drilling in Alaska, as the Post reports:
The [Arctic Refuge] announcement, according to individuals briefed on the plan, is just the first in a series of decisions the Interior Department will make in the coming week that will affect the state’s oil and gas production. The department will also put part of the Arctic Ocean off limits to drilling as part of a five-year leasing plan it will issue this week and is considering whether to impose additional limits on oil and gas production in parts of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.
Cue more irate Republicans.