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National monument status urged for Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

November 20, 2010 |  8:04 am

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Forget healthcare reform, cap and trade, deficit reduction. For congressional stalemates, there's no more evergreen a fight than whether to drill for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Don't expect it to get resolved next year. With the Republicans taking over the House, a new drilling bill is likely to get slightly more traction than an equally inevitable move to try to lock up the refuge as wilderness.

But with the 50th anniversary of the refuge coming up next month, some of the nation's biggest environmental groups hope to persuade President Obama to play a trump card, and designate the refuge as a national monument.  Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) headed a list of 25 senators in a letter backing full permanent protection for the refuge. 

"By being designated a national monument under the antiquities act, we believe that it would send an additional message to the Congress and to the public about the resource values of this area, and we hope that would help discourage future efforts to legislatively promote drilling in the refuge," said Robert Dewey, vice president for government relations at the Defenders of Wildlife.

But as usual, Alaska's congressional delegation is forming a mighty wall aimed at holding off any new attempts to impose additional federal controls. The state's Democratic senator, Mark Begich, downplayed talk of a monument and said new directional drilling technology can allow oil companies to access the petroleum reserves under the refuge from outside, without despoiling the wildlife-rich coastal plain.

"We should be discussing how to make that happen, and reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil, rather than writing more letters that paint  [the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge] as this last bastion of wilderness," Begich said in a statement. "I would invite all of these senators to come to Alaska and see first-hand how we do exploration correctly on the North Slope, the millions of acres already protected in ANWR, and the relatively small area of ANWR that would ever be touched for development.”

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-- Kim Murphy

Photo: The 1002 area of the coastal plain on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a 1.5 million-acre section of the refuge set aside for possible future oil and gas development. Credit: Associated Press

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