Babbitt urges against Arctic monument
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JANUARY 5, 2000

Potentially clearing the way for oil development by the incoming George W. Bush administration, Bruce Babbitt has urged President Bill Clinton not to declare the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) a national monument.

"Monument designation doesn't add anything, absolutely nothing," said the outgoing Secretary of Interior in an interview on Thursday with The Associated Press.

Oil and gas development in the refuge has been a hot issue, particularly given the nation's energy woes. President-elect Bush has targeted ANWR's 1.5 million acre coastal plan as part of his long-range energy plan.

The departing Clinton administration, including Vice President Al Gore and Babbitt, oppose drilling. But Gale Norton, Babbitt's potential successor at the Department of Interior, and former Senator Spencer Abraham (R-Mi), Bush's pick to head the Department of Energy -- the agency he has sought to dismantle -- support Bush's call for development.

Although Bush believes the refuge can be developed without fear of destroying its unique character, environmentalists, including President Jimmy Carter, have been pushing Clinton to declare ANWR a national monument. Under the Antiquities Act of 1906, the President has the power to declare monuments, but Babbitt said such a designation in this case would be "meaningless."

"It's a meaningless gesture," said Babbitt. "It adds no protection that isn't already there."

It would take an act of Congress to open up the refuge to development. In March, Babbitt condemned an oil exploration bill introduced by Senator Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) and on Thursday said any attempts to open up ANWR would be opposed.

Home to porcupine caribou, polar bears, wolves, and numerous other birds, fish, and wildlife, US Fish and Wildlife calls ANWR one of "the most complete, pristine, and undisturbed ecosystems on earth." Inupiat Eskimo and Gwich'in Alaska Natives also call the region home and fall on both sides of the issue.

Oliver Leavitt, the chairman of the Arctic Slope Regional Corp., has said the Alaska Native-owned corporation would sue if ANWR were declared a monument. The corporation owns mineral rights on some 92,000 acres in the coastal plain and stands to gain monetarily from development.

The Gwich'in Steering Committee, on the other hand, supports the monument status. The Gwich'in depend on caribou in the refuge for their subsistence lifestyle.

Relevant Links:
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, US Fish and Wildlife Service -
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Pro-Development site -

Related Stories:
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)