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Murkowski Critical Of Proposal For Arctic National Wildlife Refuge


Over the weekend, President Obama proposed giving wilderness status to 12 million acres of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, also known as ANWR. President Obama said it's a way of preserving a pristine environment for future generations. It also means energy companies would be barred from drilling in a region with rich oil reserves at a time when Alaska's economy is being hurt by plunging oil prices, which is why opponents of the president's move came out swinging, including Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski. She is the Republican chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: You have described the president's plan as an unprecedented assault on Alaska that will have long-lasting effects on the state's economy and the nation's energy security. Now, when you speak of the nation, is not America actually more energy-secure than it has been in generations?

MURKOWSKI: We are because we have been accessing our domestic reserves, primarily on private and state lands. But think about what our potential could be if we are able to access those federal resources. We are a state that has been providing oil to the country for decades now and doing so in an environmentally sound and safe way. But what the president is proposing has the potential to thwart any development there. All of a sudden, it's a one-two-three kick to Alaska.

MONTAGNE: When you say environmentally safe, I think many Americans know about and certainly think about - are exactly the moments when it's not safe, when there's an oil spill.

MURKOWSKI: If you look to the track record - the safety track record - in Alaska, it is a model of environmental standards and safeguards. What people unfortunately relate to when they think of Alaska oil was when the Exxon Valdez went aground because of a captain that was drunk. But when you look to how we have been safely producing and moving Alaska's oil for decades, it is a track record that is enviable.

MONTAGNE: The fight over the Arctic refuge has been with us for some time. Twenty years ago, President Clinton vetoed a law passed by Congress that would've approved exploration and production on the coastal plain of the refuge. That veto stuck. When you say, as you already have in a statement, we are left with no choice but to hit back as hard as we can. What do you mean by that? What can you realistically do?

MURKOWSKI: What we are faced with right now is a different battle than we had in 1995 when Clinton vetoed the opening of ANWR to limited exploration and development. What we're faced with now is not a situation where we're trying to get votes to open it to limited access. We're trying to keep this area from being locked up permanently, indefinitely, forever to anything.

And keep in mind that what the president has started is a process that would move towards a wilderness designation. But it is ultimately and only the Congress that can make that determination. I can almost guarantee that this Congress will not approve placing ANWR into wilderness status. So the president is pushing something in the Congress that it will not endorse.

The problem that we're facing right now, though, is that once he has initiated this process, as he has, these areas will be managed as wilderness. So what does that mean for the people that live in the ANWR area? There's so much focus on the wildlife, on the polar bear and the critters and the birds. And they are important. Don't get me wrong. But equally important - more important - is the obligation that we have to the people who live there, who have been there for centuries, many of them. So let's not lose sight of the human beings that are part of this discussion.

MONTAGNE: That's Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Thank you very much for talking with us.

MURKOWSKI: Thank you, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.