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Obama to Propose Protecting 1.4 Million Acres of Arctic Refuge

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Jan. 26, 2015

President Barack Obama will propose blocking 1.4 million acres (556,000 hectares) of Arctic refuge from oil and gas drilling, The Washington Post reported on Sunday.

The administration plans to propose designating the area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness, the highest level of federal protection that would ban oil and gas drilling, the newspaper reported, citing people briefed on the plan.

The move is certain to spark yet another fight with Republicans, who have fought for 35 years over how to manage what is known as ANWR, or the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The vast region has huge petroleum reserves but also provides critical habitat for caribou, millions of migrating birds, polar bears and other wildlife.

"What’s coming is a stunning attack on our sovereignty and our ability to develop a strong economy that allows us, our children and our grandchildren to thrive," said the new Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee chairman, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska,  in a statement to the Post.

"It’s clear this administration does not care about us, and sees us as nothing but a territory. … I cannot understand why this administration is willing to negotiate with Iran, but not Alaska. But we will not be run over like this. We will fight back with every resource at our disposal."

The state's Republican congressional delegation, along with the new governor, Bill Walker, sent out a joint news release Sunday morning calling the action "an unprecedented assault on Alaska."

Walker, an independent, said in a statement that he may be forced to accelerate oil and gas permitting on state lands to compensate for the new federal restrictions.

"Having just given to Alaskans the State of the State and State of the Budget addresses, it’s clear that our fiscal challenges in both the short and long term would benefit significantly from increased oil production," Walker said. Roughly 40 billion barrels of the state’s untapped reserves are already in federal areas where oil and gas activity is blocked or restricted, he pointed out.

The announcement, which could come on Sunday, is likely the first in a series of decisions the administration will make in the coming week about Alaska's oil and gas production. The administration also plans to block part of the Arctic Ocean from drilling.

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