President Obama will call on Congress to expand protection for Alaska’s Arctic refuge to 12 million acres, including 1.5 million acres along the coastline that are rich in oil. Alaska’s congressional delegation and Gov. Bill Walker immediately criticized the Department of Interior announcement, saying it was an attack on the state’s ability to manage its own resources, reports the Alaska Dispatch News.* “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,” said Sen. Murkowski, who is also the chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
For his part, freshman Sen. Dan Sullivan went as far as to call the announcement an example of how the White House is waging a “war on Alaska families” because its “ultimate goal [is] making Alaska one big national park.”
There seems to be more where that came from though. The announcement is likely the first in a series of moves that the Department of the Interior will be taking “that will affect the state’s oil and gas production,” details the Washington Post. The paper explains:
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.
“Designating vast areas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as Wilderness reflects the significance this landscape holds for America and its wildlife,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. “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.”
In a video released by the White House, Obama says that “Alaska’s National Wildlife refuge is an incredible place—pristine, undisturbed. It supports caribou and polar bears, all manner of marine life, countless species of birds and fish, and for centuries it supported many Alaska native communities. But it’s very fragile.”
With the move, almost 20 million acres would have a wilderness designation, which is the highest level of federal protection. And while Congress is the only one that can officially declare that an area receive a wilderness designation, “once the federal government identifies a place for that designation it receives the highest level of protection until Congress acts,” explains the Post.
*Correction, Jan. 26, 2015: This post originally misstated the name of Alaska Dispatch News as Anchorage Daily News.