Monday marked the 50th anniversary of the designation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the more than 30,000-square-mile tract of northeastern Alaska that has been a center of controversy since the late-1970s, when the United States government passed a law prohibiting drilling there without direct congressional approval.
Last month, conservationists took ANWR’s approaching birthday as an opportunity to call for further protections for the land, and asked President Obama to declare it a national monument. Twenty-five Senators signed a letter to the President, reminding him of the refuge’s historical and ecological significance, and cited a poll indicating that two-thirds of Americans support expanded protections for the sanctuary.
But with Republicans preparing to take over the House of Representatives and climbing gas prices threatening to derail the long-awaited economic recovery, it’s unlikely that ANWR will be made any more off-limits to oil companies than it was the day George W. Bush left office.
Yesterday, Bush’s former energy secretary Spencer Abraham and the likely future chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, banded together to publish an editorial in Politico, calling for “environmentally responsible exploration” of the refuge. “If we are permitted to use our vast domestic energy reserves, prices would fall, new jobs could be created and the United States could achieve a greater level of energy security,” wrote Abraham and Republican Rep. Fred Upton, of Michigan.
Right now, it doesn’t appear that either side will get its way in the next two years, with Democrats still in control of the Senate and President Obama currently standing by his campaign pledge to reject any measure opening the land to oil companies.
Meanwhile, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin told her Facebook followers last week that the next episode of her reality show will feature a hunting expedition “at the edge of ANWR, where you can see the uninhabited lands that warehouse billions of barrels of American energy supplies underground just waiting for the political will to allow responsible resource development.”