What others say: Line in president's speech could unnerve ANWR oil supporters

President Obama’s State of the Union speech Tuesday ran for more than 6,500 words.

But a mere 20 of those words, strung together in one sentence as almost an afterthought in a segment about natural gas, may have unnerved many development-minded Alaskans.

“And while we’re at it, I’ll use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations.”

This one sentence will most certainly raise alarm — and rightly so — among those who hope that Congress will someday authorize oil production in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

It’s been a while since ANWR has been in the news, and a reminder can understandably be in order about oil and ANWR. So here it is: The Alaska National Lands Conservation Act, approved by Congress in 1980, contains language authorizing exploratory oil and gas activity within the coastal plain but requiring a separate act of Congress to actually get any oil or gas into production. That second authorization has never materialized, though Alaska’s members of Congress have tried over the years to achieve it and once came close, only to see it vetoed by President Clinton.

The effort to get oil out of ANWR has been a national fight for decades and has involved prominent wilderness organizations whose aim is to have ANWR and its estimated 11 billion barrels of recoverable oil shielded from production forever.

The mechanism under which these groups want the area locked up is the Antiquities Act of 1906, which gives a president the authority to designate monuments. President Obama can by himself change the designation of ANWR from a refuge to a monument without congressional approval. The nation has 108 national monuments, which the Antiquities Act describes as “objects of historic or scientific interest.

This idea of President Obama going it alone “to protect more of our pristine federal lands” fits with the general theme of his State of the Union speech, which was one of frustration at a Congress that he views as intransigent and incapable on many subjects. That can only heighten concern that ANWR may be on a list somewhere in the administration for monument designation.

It’s not just the president articulating this. Last week, 109 House Democrats sent a general letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell urging use of the Antiquities Act on a number of lands proposals because Congress is not acting on them.

The battle over the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s vast oil supplies has been a long one, but it could come to a quick end if the refuge is one of the areas that President Obama was thinking of when speaking those 20 words of his.

And that would be unfortunate for our state and for our energy-hungry nation.

— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,

Jan. 30

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