By Libby Casey
Thousands of miles away from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Washington D-C prominent environmentalists and members of Congress kicked off a celebration of the Refuge yesterday. They’re marking fifty years since the region first became a federally protected area under President Dwight Eisenhower. Since then its Coastal Plain has been a battle ground between environmentalists and pro-development forces eager to explore for oil and gas.
Massachusetts Congressman Ed Markey is one of the Democrats who’ve pushed hardest for permanent protection of the Refuge. He says there’s added urgency in light of the recent oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico.
Now it is time to finish the job these great Americans began 50 years ago. Now it is time to permanently protect the coastal plain. The recent events in the Gulf are an important reminder that when it comes to drilling, there is no such thing as immaculate extraction.
Markey says as oil company B-P and federal and state authorities try to cope with the spill spreading throughout the Gulf of Mexico, he’s questioning pro-development arguments that drilling leaves a minimal footprint.
On this day I point them to an ocean that is on fire. On this day we point them to wetlands and wildlife in the spill’s path that have no refuge. So as some in the congress continue to chant Drill Baby Drill, most Americans remain concerned about the impact of spill baby spill.
Markey was joined outside the U-S Capitol by environmentalists and other Democratic members of Congress, including Senators Mark Udall of Colorado and Tom Udall of New Mexico. The Udalls shared personal stories of rafting and skiing in the Arctic Refuge.
Their fathers both fought to protect the area – Mo Udall as a Congressman and Stewart Udall as Interior Secretary to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Tom Udall says his father Stewart always noted that one of the lawyers at the table when the refuge was first established was Ted Stevens, who later became Alaska’s senator and one of the biggest opponents of protecting the refuge.
Ted Stevens. Ted Stevens, OK? So where are the Republicans today? Let’s get them aboard on this bill.
Tom Udall says he believes now, with a Democratic-led Congress and White House, the Arctic Refuge COULD get complete protection.
I always think that on this issue we’ve been building momentum. We’re working hard, this anniversary you’re going to see a variety of things happen, inside, outside Alaska, you’re going to see a lot of things happen.
But the Alaska delegation was noticeably absent from today’s gathering. They want the Coastal Plain opened to development, and battle efforts to tighten protections. Tom Udall says that doesn’t mean there should be an impasse.
The Alaska delegation has to balance everything in Alaska and that’s very very important, but sometimes the nation also has to act in its best interest, so that’s what I think that’s what we have to do with the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Alaskan Luci Beach, the executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee in the Interior, spoke at today’s gathering. She often travels to Washington to fight efforts to open ANWR to development.
It’s a different feeling to be here to be celebrating the Arctic Refuge and there is so much to celebrate. Right now the Porcupine Caribou herd is beginning their migration to the calving and nursing grounds, to the birthplace. And it’s one of the longest migrations of any terrestrial mammal in the world. And we have that to claim in Alaska and in this country.
Beach is staying in Washington until next week, when the Interior Department will host a public scoping meeting about the Arctic Refuge’s federal conservation plan. Additional hearings will be in Anchorage and Fairbanks, and in Refuge communities.
The 50th anniversary celebration of ANWR continues through December 6th, the date President Eisenhower established the original Refuge area.