The only legislator in America to have been born and raised in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge told PJM he was “flabbergasted” by President Obama’s move to shut down oil and natural gas exploration and production in ANWR.
“I was floored by it,” Alaska Rep. Benjamin Nageak said. “I wasn’t prepared to hear such a statement from the leader of the free world. I don’t think he knows exactly what he did.”
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is the largest National Wildlife Refuge in the nation. It covers nearly 19.3 million acres of northeast Alaska, in what is known as the Alaska Northern Slope region.
The White House released a video to explain the Obama administration’s thinking on why more than 12 million acres in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge had to be set aside as a federally protected wilderness area.
“Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuge is an incredible place…but it’s very fragile,” Obama said in the video.
Nageak, who represents the ANWR area in the Alaska State House, said that’s true enough, but he is worried about the fragility of the Alaskan economy and the lifestyle of his family and friends who live in ANWR.
What Obama has done, Nageak said, and will explain to the nation’s chief executive if he ever has a chance, is lock up the only source of revenue — oil and natural gas — available to the people who live in the Arctic.
“The result will be more dependence on the federal government,” Nageak said.
Nageak said he would have no problem teaming up with the Republican majority in the Alaska Legislature and working with the state’s Republican congressional delegation to change minds in the Oval Office and on Capitol Hill.
The GOP majority is firmly on Nageak’s side in this debate over opening ANWR and has been for years.
The Democrat and his Republican colleagues in the Alaska Legislature have advocated to presidents, members of Congress and anyone who would listen.
“This is just another example of why our caucus is committed to stopping federal overreach,” Alaska House Speaker Mike Chenault (R) said. “Alaska’s not a territory anymore and it’s high time our federal overlords stopped trying to treat us like one.”
“The Department of the Interior is proposing an outlandish and preposterous plan, once again trying to assert rule without taking into meaningful account the voices and wishes of the people their decision will most closely effect,” he added.
Designating more than 12 million acres as wilderness — including the oil and gas rich Coastal Plain — would kill any hope for development, and breaks a promise made when Alaska became the 49th state that Alaskans would be given a chance to build their own future, Alaska House Majority Leader Charisse Millet (R) said.
“This proposal, if pushed through, would directly oppose that, stifling the will of Alaskans and our ability to self-govern. Alaskans, frankly, won’t stand for it,” said Millet.
“I will work with our caucus, the Alaska Senate, the governor and our congressional delegation to put an end to this nonsense once and for all. Alaskans deserve better than we’re getting from President Obama and his Interior secretary,” she added.
Alaska Gov. Bill Walker (I) said Obama’s ANWR plan could not have come at a worse time for Alaska.
The state has been hammered by plunging oil prices. Alaska is drawing down more than $10 million from savings every day because of the drop in prices and declining production.
Walker is thinking about taking more direction action – pumping oil as fast as possible on state land.
“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.
“This action by the federal government is a major setback toward reaching that goal.”
Gov. Walker said imposing wilderness status on ANWR would permanently place off-limits the United States’ most promising onshore oil production.
Walker pointed out it would also severely restrict access for subsistence hunters and other uses of the area because the order bans motorized vehicles from the protected area.
Nageak said it is evident Obama doesn’t understand the lifestyle of the people who live in ANWR.
“There are few jobs available in the Arctic. We live off the land. We still eat quail. We still eat fish. We still eat caribou and we still eat polar bears,” Nageak explained. “And we are not going to stop that because it is healthier for you.”
As other Alaskan politicians like Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R) and Dan Sullivan (R) have said, Nageak believes the fight for ANWR is about more than the environment and oil and natural gas drilling.
Murkowski and Sullivan have said they would fight for Alaskans’ right to control their own land.
Nageak looks at it differently because of his heritage. He said the Obama order is a continuation of the federal government’s practice of pushing native peoples of America off their land and into reservations.
“We are strangers in a strange land,” he said. “We are living on land that is not ours because the federal government says it is theirs.”