Barack Obama aide defends Alaska conservation plan

Republicans react angrily to proposal to keep Arctic wildlife lands off limits to exploration

A polar bear keeps close to her young along the Beaufort Sea coast in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska. US president Barack Obama’s proposal would be the largest designation of wilderness since the Wilderness Act in the 1960. Photograph: Susanne Miller/Reuters

A polar bear keeps close to her young along the Beaufort Sea coast in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska. US president Barack Obama’s proposal would be the largest designation of wilderness since the Wilderness Act in the 1960. Photograph: Susanne Miller/Reuters

 
White HouseAlaska

The Obama administration announced on Sunday the president’s intention to ask the US Congress to designate more land in Alaska’s wildlife refuge as a protected wilderness area.

About seven million acres of Alaska’s 19 million-acre national wildlife refuge, home to polar bears, grey wolves and 200 species of birds, are designated as wilderness, putting it off limits to exploration.

Protect

In a video posted by the White House on Sunday, the president said that he would ask Congress to protect the wildlife refuge to “make sure that this amazing wonder is preserved for future generations”.

US interior secretary Sally Jewell said that just like Yosemite National Park or the Grand Canyon, the Arctic refuge was one of the country’s “crown jewels”.

The proposal, which would be the largest designation of wilderness since the Wilderness Act in the 1960, requires legislation to pass Congress but the odds of this happening are long given the likely strong resistance from Republicans who control Congress. Alaska’s representatives have condemned the administration in angry terms over the move, saying that it threatens the local economy.

The state’s congressional representatives, along with governor Bill Walker, a Republican who ran as an independent in the last election, have said the action was “an unprecedented assault on Alaska”.

“They’ve decided that today was the day that they were going to declare war on Alaska. Well, we are ready to engage,” said senator Lisa Murkowski, the new chairwoman of the influential Senate energy and natural resources committee.

She said that she couldn’t understand why the administration is willing to negotiate with Iran but not with Alaska on this issue. Dan Sullivan, the state’s newly elected senator, described the president’s plan a “lawless attempt” ultimately to make Alaska “one big national park”.

Climate change

IndiaJohn Podesta

“So we hope that we can find co-operation so that wilderness designation ultimately can go through in the Congress,” he said.

The announcement comes ahead of Mr Podesta stepping down next month to help Hillary Clinton’s anticipated presidential campaign.

Urging Congress to approve the plan, the White House has pointed to America’s standing as the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas, a result of the US boom in oil and gas extraction from shale rock.