White House says no monument for Arctic
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JANUARY 11, 2001

Amidst mounting pressure from conservationists, scientists, and Alaska Natives, President Bill Clinton in his final days won't declare the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) a national monument, the White House said on Wednesday.

"We oppose efforts to drill in ANWR," said spokesman Jake Stewart. "But we believe, actually, after consulting with our environmental team, that ANWR has something that some of the other areas we looked at does not have, which is legislative protected status, which is actually higher than that conferred by the monuments."

"So we're not convinced that giving it a monument status would give it any additional legal protection," he added.

The decision against monument status comes as no surprise, as outgoing Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt last week said he wouldn't recommend such an action. But as President-elect George W. Bush prepares to enter office, speculation on the Arctic has been a hot topic. Bush, Gale Norton, Babbitt's named successor, and Secretary of Energy nominee Spencer Abraham, support opening up the pristine Arctic environment up to oil drilling.

Despite administrative support, opening up ANWR to drilling requires an act of Congress, although attempts to do so in recent years have failed. Still, just this week in Anchorage, Alaska, oil companies, environmental groups and Alaska Natives debated the issue at the request of Congress.

If lawmakers were looking to the groups for guidance, they might not find it easily, however. The energy industry believes the refuge's north slope can be developing without harming it, but environmentalists and some Alaska Natives, such as the Gwich'in, citing damage to their traditional lifestyle, disagree.

"Drilling would have a permanent negative effect on the environment and on our lives," wrote Faith Gemmill to The Seattle Times. "The Arctic Refuge is sacred land; it is the calving grounds for the Porcupine caribou. We need to protect this land because the caribou are our livelihood, culture and spirit."

Other Alaska Natives, though, have a different opinion, given the economic prospects. When the Inupiat-owned Arctic Slope Regional Corp., an Alaska Native corporation, obtained mineral rights to 92,000 acres of land on the slope in 1983, they were permitted by the Interior Department to drill a test oil well before choosing which land they desired. Last year, its chairman, Oliver Leavitt, threatened to sue if ANWR were declared a national monument.

A key Congressional advocate for drilling, Senator Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska), may preside over the confirmation hearing of Norton and Abraham. Both hearings are scheduled for January 18, with Norton's hearing spilling over to the next day if necessary.

Relevant Links:
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, US Fish and Wildlife Service -
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Pro-Development site -
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee -

Related Stories:
Arctic drilling debated (Enviro 1/10)
LETTER: Preserve Arctic Refuge (Enviro 1/10)
Babbitt urges against Arctic monument (Enviro 1/5)
EDITORIAL: Preserve Arctic Refuge (The Talking Circle 12/15)
Refuge status on hold (Enviro 12/04)
Protection of Alaska refuge urged (Enviro 11/01)
Alaska Natives fight monument (Enviro 09/07)
Tribe fights drilling (Enviro 05/24)