The Obama administration’s proposal to expand federally protected lands in Alaska has sparked huge controversy with the state’s entire government.
Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) currently protects about seven million acres from oil and gas exploration. Obama’s new proposal would close off another 12.28 million acres. Closing off this land “is a stunning attack on our sovereignty and our ability to develop a strong economy,” said Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska:
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.
Alaska’s Governor Bill Walker also expressed displeasure with the proposal, and is considering increasing oil development on state-owned lands in response to the proposal:
Having just given to Alaskans the State of the State and State of the Budget addresses, it’s clear that our fiscal challenges in both the short and long term would benefit significantly from increased oil production. This action by the federal government is a major setback toward reaching that goal. Therefore, I will consider accelerating the options available to us to increase oil exploration and production on state-owned lands.
The Obama administration says that Murkowski’s reaction to the announcement was “unwarranted.” However, this is not the first time Alaska and the Obama administration have butted heads. In 2013, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell rejected the construction of a gravel emergency road across Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, to the ire of Alaska lawmakers.
While the proposal requires congressional approval, the Interior can still create extra protections on the region. This proposal is already being heralded as one more example of the Obama administration’s federal overreach, and could continue to incite major discontent from Alaskan legislators.