Environmental Battle Set Over Alaskan Wilderness Refuge

Remember when the Keystone pipeline XL was the only environmental showdown in Washington? Yup, simpler times…  



It looks like the Keystone pipeline XL won’t be the only environmental issue to be talked about in 2015. The Obama administration recently proposed to designate a vast majority of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as protected wilderness. That of course would mean the potentially oil-rich Alaskan coast – which is also part of the refuge – would go untouched. As you may have guessed, this isn’t sitting too well with many in government.


The Obama administration’s proposal would add an additional 12.3 million acres of wildlife to the seven million acres already set aside for federal protection. This would make the plains in Alaska’s north-east corner untouchable to those that look at these lands as untapped resources for oil and natural gas.


This Alaskan refuge has always been a battleground with conservationists and energy proponents. Advocates for energy exploration of the refuge say the US is leaving behind vast oil and gas deposits by not utilizing the Alaskan coastline to its fullest potential, while conservationists have argued that by stripping the land of resources you destroy the wildlife and natural beauty that goes with it. Interesting enough two other groups, Alaskan state officials and the federal government, have started to lock horns in discussing the future of the area.


Many conservative lawmakers have voiced their disapproval over the Obama administration’s proposal stating that by the very act of making that designated area protected is just another example of the federal government impeding on state’s rights. Last year the Alaskan legislature passed a bipartisan resolution that urged the federal government to allow exploration for development on the coastal plains. But the federal government has continually ignored these requests for exploration for years now. Even though state officials and energy proponents have become allies in this battle, for Alaskan legislators it has become more about a state’s right to choose what to do over their own territory and less about energy exploration in the area.


If more issues like the Keystone pipeline XL and the Alaskan refuge initiative continue to become bigger ideological issues, the environment could be a major talking point in the 2016 presidential contests. Would be a welcome change from the 2012 presidential elections where that issue was almost completely ignored.



(Photo Credit: Tongas Conservation Society)


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