- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 4, 2015

President Obama issued his administration’s finalized recommendations late Friday to expand protected areas of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, drawing a furious response from the state’s Republican senators.

In a letter to Speaker John A. Boehner, Mr. Obama reiterated his intention to preserve the vast energy-rich tract and called on Congress to block about 12 million acres from oil and natural gas drilling.

“This area is one of the most beautiful, undisturbed places in the world,” Mr. Obama told Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican.”It is a national treasure and should be permanently protected through legislation for future generations.”

The president’s action sets up a battle with the Republican lawmakers who are already simmering over the president’s veto of legislation to complete the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, vowed to block president’s move. She has introduced legislation permitting oil production in the Arctic refuge.

“We will continue to fight against the administration’s efforts to impose new restrictions on Alaska’s lands and resources,” Mrs. Murkowski said. “A congressional designation of the Coastal Plain as wilderness will not happen on my watch.”

Her Alaskan colleague, Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan, said Mr. Obama’s “goal of starving the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and turning our state into a giant national park will not stand.”

“This outrageous proposal from the Obama Administration will undermine Alaska’s future and America’s energy security. It will never see the light of day in Congress,” Mr. Sullivan said. He pledged to work with Mrs. Murkowski, Rep. Don Young, Alaska Republican, and others “in defending our fellow Alaskans against this assault on our families and our future.”

The plain is calving ground for caribou, and also is home to grizzly bears, foxes, wolverines and other wildlife. Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters hailed the president’s move.

“We’re pleased to see President Obama courageously follow through on his commitment to protect the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” said Defenders of Wildlife President and Chief Executive Officer Jamie Rappaport Clark.

The Interior Department released its initial proposal calling for the expanded protections in January, prompting an outcry from Republican lawmakers who are pushing Mr. Obama to allow more energy exploration nationwide.

Mr. Obama is calling on Congress to protect an additional 12 million acres that would include the refuge’s Coastal Plain. In addition to the current off-limits area, it would bring the refuge’s total protected wilderness area to nearly 20 million acres.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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