|ANWR Wilderness Legislation Initiated in Congress|
Senator Joe Lieberman (ID-CT) introduced an ANWR Wilderness bill into the US Senate. The bill, called the “Arctic Wilderness Act”, would designate the 10-02 Area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as a “wilderness” area.
In doing so the 10-02 Area of ANWR which, in 1980 was set aside by Congress as a special area for oil and gas exploration, would be closed off to all resource development use and subject to strict access and usage laws. Alaska currently has more federally managed “wilderness” and “refuge” land than all other states in the nation combined. Roughly 100 million acres of land in America has some designated wilderness status and is thus restricted in use and access.
Despite that the 10-02 Area lies within Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, it is currently designated as neither “refuge” nor “wilderness.” The 10-02 Area was created because it was recognized by Congress as having strategic importance due to its recognized signs of containing major oil and gas deposits. The Alaska National Interest Land Claims Act (ANILCA) which created the current ANWR border in 1980 mandates that no development within the 10-02 Area is allowed without approval from Congress.
The Lieberman bill will be referred to the Senate Natural Resources Committee and be debated there before being released to the floor of the Senate. However, it is uncertain whether the bill will make it far. A majority of Congress still supports the opening of ANWR and the threat of filibuster in the Senate by ANWR supporters is almost certain. Sixty votes are required to overcome a filibuster which is a very difficult political result to obtain. Congressman Ed Markey from Massachusetts submitted similar legislation (HR-39 Udall-Eisenhower Arctic Wilderness Act) in the House in January this year which was promptly shelved in committee due to the same political situation. If by remote chance anti-ANWR wilderness legislation would pass both the Senate and then House, the bill would almost certainly be voted by President Bush who is a strong ANWR supporter. The Alaska delegation of Senators Ted Stevens and Lisa Murkowski, as well as Congressman Don Young all denounced the Lieberman bill and have vowed to fight against it.
It is ironic that such a bill be introduced into Congress at a time when world oil futures are at $98 per barrel. Increasing domestic oil supplies by exploring for oil and gas in our own national territory is perhaps the best way to fight the flow of money abroad importing ever more expensive foreign oil.
Senator Lieberman, on his web site, announced his bill with some distinct errors. The bills press release claims that the Fish and Wildlife Service state that oil and gas drilling would harm wildlife including polar bears, caribou, and musk oxen. The Alaska Fish and Game biologist for polar bears, Steven Anstrup has stated in a number of scientific papers however that oil and gas exploration has shown no major effect on polar bear’s habits, hibernating or otherwise.
Thirty years of operation of the Prudhoe Bay oil field, 50 miles to the west of ANWR, has shown an increase in the Central Caribou Herd populations from 5,000 to over 32,000 animals. These animals migrate, calve and graze directly through the middle of the largest oil field in North America every year. The fact is not one species of animal, fish, bird or plant has shown signs of, or has been reported by US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Environmental Protection Agency or the Alaska Department of Fish and Game as declining, or being harmed by oil production on the North Slope of Alaska. In fact the area in and around the Prudhoe Bay field sports a healthy and protected population of over 60 brown bear, dozens of musk oxen and tens of thousands of birds annually. One must also note that Senator Lieberman is also in error in his statement on the ANWR Coastal Plain in that no musk oxen currently inhabit the coastal plain of ANWR as they were all chased off and eat eaten by bears over 2 years ago.