ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles is not in the habit of lashing out publicly at fellow Democrats, especially when they also happen to be former presidents. But he's making an exception for Jimmy Carter.
Knowles on Thursday angrily accused Carter of being a rude houseguest by traveling to Alaska to announce that he will try to persuade President Clinton to grant national monument status to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain.
''Without any meaningful dialogue with the people of Alaska, you used our state as a media prop and platform to project your message to President Clinton,'' Knowles fumed in a two-page letter to Carter.
The 1.5-million-acre coastal plain is believed by many to sit atop billions of barrels of crude whose development would be in the best interests of Alaska's oil-dependent economy and an energy-thirsty nation. A national monument designation would place the region off-limits to drilling rigs.
But the area is seen by conservationists, in Alaska and elsewhere, as pristine and ecologically valuable for caribou, bears and other wildlife, and as a place that should be closed off to development.
Knowles went on to tell Carter that his pro-preservation position on the issue is misguided and that the coastal plain's future should be decided by wide debate rather than a last-minute, unilateral action by an outgoing president.
''You are wrong in calling for executive action at the midnight hour instead of an open, public, democratic process of weighing values in the light of day,'' the governor wrote.
Carter is in Alaska to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980, one of the last laws he signed before leaving office.
ANILCA, as it is known, added more than 100 million acres -- an area the size of California -- to Alaska's national parks, wildlife refuges, national forests and wildlands.
''Of all the things I've ever done, nothing exceeds my pride that I was given a small role to play in the passage of this legislation,'' Carter said Wednesday.
But Carter said he regrets that he let ANILCA pass under his pen without settling the future of the coastal plain, and that Clinton should decide the issue once and for all by using the Antiquities Act of 1906 to set aside the region as a national monument.
Cecil Andrus, former Idaho governor and Interior secretary under Carter, echoed the former president's call.
''In the Lower 48, we fight to save some single remnant of an area that's already been ruined,'' Andrus said. ''Here in Alaska we have a chance to do it right the first time.''
Conservationists across the nation lined up behind Carter, while other Alaska political leaders and pro-development interests linked arms with Knowles.
''Now is the time for President Clinton to enhance and solidify his own environmental legacy,'' said Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League in Washington, D.C.
''Mr. Carter is free to advise President Clinton on this issue, but it's advice the White House would be smart to ignore,'' said state Senate President Drue Pearce of Anchorage.
Knowles said he has been assured several times by the Clinton administration that there are no plans to declare the coastal plain a national monument.
But the governor said his confidence in those assurances has been shaken since Carter weighed in on the issue.
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