Senators urge “stronger protections” for Arctic Refuge

By:  SeattlePi.com
Source: Seattle PI

Stopping short of demanding national monument designation, 25 U.S. Senators
have called for “stronger protections” and “additional protections” of Alaska’s
19-million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Ron Wyden and Jeff
Merkley, D-Oregon, signed the letter, timed to coincide with the 50th
anniversary of President Eisenhower’s creation of a smaller national wildlife
range on the North Slope.

The battle over whether to drill for oil in the Refuge’s Coastal Plain, just
east of the Prudhoe Bay oil field, has slackened of late.

Both Presidents George H.W. and George W. Bush – and particularly Vice
President Dick Cheney — campaigned for oil exploration.

Debate over oil development has shifted to offshore waters, where Shell is
eager to begin drilling test wells, and to lands of the vast National Petroleum
Reserve west and southwest of Prudhoe Bay.

But environmental groups want President Obama to use his powers under the
1906 Antiquities Act to designate the Refuge as a national monument,
particularly to protect the Coastal Plain.

“The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is truly one of America’s greatest wild
places: Its Coastal Plain hosts an amazing diversity of wildlife including polar
bears, grizzly bears, muskoxen, wolverines and over a hundred thousand caribou,”
the senators wrote.

“This ‘biological heart’ of the Refuge is connected to the entire country, as
well as to countries all around the world. Every year, birds that begin their
lives on the Coastal Plain migrate to all 50 states and across six continents,
before heading back to the Arctic, where the cycle of life begins again.”

The Coastal Plain is calving ground for the giant Porcupine Caribou Herd,
which has a vast circular migration route that passes into Canada’s Yukon
Territory and through the Brooks Range.

The senators’ letter was put together by Connecticut’s Independent Sen. Joe
Lieberman and Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, whose father was the Kennedy
administration’s conservation minded Interior Secretary.

Alaska’s GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Democratic Sen. Mark Begich support
drilling on the Coastal Plain. They have introduced legislation that would
permit “slant” drilling into the Refuge from land just west across the Canning

Ex-Gov. Sarah Palin has made support for Refuge drilling a litmus test in her
endorsement of Republican candidates. Her 2008 running mate Sen. John McCain,
R-Ariz., has voted against drilling in the Senate.

The 8.9 million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Range was established in 1960,
under an order signed by then-Interior Secretary Fred Seaton.

In creating the preserve, Seaton wrote:

“Looking ahead 50 years to the unfolding story of Alaska’s development, it is
clear that the only feasible opportunity for maintaining a wilderness frontier
large enough for the preservation of the caribou, the grizzly, the Dall sheep,
the wolverine and the polar bear, all of which require a sizeable unrestricted
range, lies in this northeastern Arctic region of the country.”

The 1980 Alaska Lands Act enlarged the wildlife range and redesignated it the
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But it left open the possibility of oil and gas
drilling on the 1.2 million acre Coastal Plain.

A deputy to Seaton in 1960, Ted Stevens, later represented Alaska in the
Senate for nearly 40 years. Stevens was an intense advocate of drilling on the
Coastal Plain.

Stevens came within an eyelash of opening the Arctic Refuge to drilling in
2005, when he attached a drill-in provision to a defending defense bill.

Sens. Lieberman and Cantwell stopped him with a filibuster. Stevens
threatened to
come into Washington to campaign against Cantwell, and
sponsored an Anchorage fundraiser for her opponent Mike McGavick.

Alas, McGavick had to return $14,000 donations from the Anchorage event when
several of its sponsors became targets of a federal probe of political
corruption in the 49th state.