WASHINGTON, Jan. 26 (UPI) -- The Obama administration has declared war on the economic future of Alaska by proposing new acreage as protected wilderness, congressional leaders said.
The White House announced plans Sunday to set as 12 million of the 19 million acres in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska as protected wilderness.
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, chairwoman of the Senate Energy Committee, said in a statement President Barack Obama launched an assault on the health of the state's economy with the policy recommendation.
"It's clear this administration does not care about us, and sees us as nothing but a territory," she said in a statement. "We will fight back with every resource at our disposal."
Alaska's government last year said it was able to award oil and gas drilling licenses after clarifying authority near the border of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Former Gov. Sean Parnell said parts of the refuge area may contain "billions of barrels of recoverable oil."
Some lawmakers objected to the state decision, calling on the Department of Interior to "protect the biological heart of the refuge from oil and gas exploration and drilling."
Murkowski's counterpart in the House of Representatives, Rob Bishop, R-Utah., said the president was harming the economic prospects of the entire nation.
"It is irrational to continue to bow to environmental extremists by taking away opportunities to give our nation energy independence while squashing the futures of local economies," he said.
In a weekly status report, the federal government said oil production in Alaska was behind most of the declines in output.
For the Obama administration, the action was about protecting national heritage. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell it would create the largest ever wilderness refuge, if Congress chooses to act.
The Natural Resources Defense Council said the action was the "best news" for Alaska's wilderness since the refuge area was established by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1960.