President Barack Obama will ask Congress to declare over 12 million acres of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness, he announced Sunday, rekindling a decades-old fight over oil drilling there.
In a video message, Obama called the portions of ANWR he wants to protect as "pristine, undisturbed" and "very fragile." He asked the GOP Congress to protect the area "as a wilderness so we can make sure this amazing wonder is protected for future generations."
The debate over oil drilling in ANWR was a mainstay as Republicans held Congress from the mid-1990s until the Democrats won the House and Senate in 2006, and was a central part of government shutdown fights between Congress and President Bill Clinton.
The plan was first reported Sunday morning by the Washington Post.
The proposal takes direct aim at Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the new chairwoman of both Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Appropriations subpanel that controls the Interior Department's budget.
"What's coming is a stunning attack on our sovereignty and our ability to develop a strong economy that allows us, our children and our grandchildren to thrive," Murkowski said in a statement. "It's clear this administration does not care about us, and sees us as nothing but a territory. The promises made to us at statehood, and since then, mean absolutely nothing to them. I cannot understand why this administration is willing to negotiate with Iran, but not Alaska. But we will not be run over like this. We will fight back with every resource at our disposal."