WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is boosting protection of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and will ask Congress to designate more than 12 million acres as a wilderness area, including its potentially oil-rich Coastal Plain.
The designation would seal off the area in Alaska’s northeast corner from oil exploration and give it the highest degree of federal protection available to public lands. Obama and the Interior Department announced the effort Sunday.
The refuge’s Coastal Plain has long been at the center of the struggle between conservationists and advocates of greater energy exploration in the United States. In a White House video released Sunday, Obama says he is seeking the designation “so we can make sure that this amazing wonder is preserved for future generations.”
Alaska’s top elected officials, including Gov. Bill Walker, reacted angrily at the administration’s moves, and Obama’s efforts to win wilderness designation will likely face stiff resistance in the Republican-controlled Congress.
“I have tried to work with this administration — even though they’ve made it extremely difficult every step of the way — but those days are officially over,” said Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska’s senior senator and the chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “We are left with no choice but to hit back as hard as we can.”
The Interior Department issued a comprehensive plan Sunday that for the first time recommended the additional protections. If Congress agrees, it would be the largest wilderness designation in the country.