President Obama has proposed designating over 12 million acres of land in Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) as “wilderness,” the highest level of protection that land can get from the federal government. The “wilderness” designation bans development such as drilling, mining, road construction, and construction of permanent structures. If codified into law, the President’s proposal would provide Alaska with over 70 million acres of land protected under the “Wildnerness” designation.
Yet as the land will temporarily gain those protections under the Department of the Interior, the protection cannot be finalized without consent from Congress, and Republicans are already strongly coming out against the President’s announcement. Specifically, the new Chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and Republican Senator from Alaska, Lisa Murkowski, has called the announcement “a stunning attack on [Alaska’s] sovereignty and our ability to develop a strong economy that allows us, our children and our grandchildren to thrive.” Due to the new Republican control of both houses of Congress, most observers believe any legislation cementing the designation for that land to fail.
Other groups have fallen in traditional roles. For example, oil and gas groups have decried the President’s announcement, citing potential damage to Alaska’s economy and a bad signal to the rest of the industry, whereas environmental groups have applauded it, positing the protective benefits for ecosystems and endangered species.
What will be the effect of President Obama’s proposal? Where is the balance between protecting the environment and economic growth?
Bob King, energy and environment editor for POLITICO
Lori Townsend, News Director, Alaska Public Media, based in Anchorage