Arctic Refuge Wilderness Bill Introduced Today in Senate: Sen. Lieberman Launches New Era for Arctic Conservation

Jan 14, 2009

WASHINGTON - Senator Joe Lieberman (ID-CT) will reintroduce a bill in the Senate today to designate the iconic Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness. This legislation is being introduced at the beginning of a new Congress and incoming administration committed to developing a comprehensive energy strategy while preserving our nation’s public lands legacy.

“Today marks the beginning of a new era for Arctic conservation,” said Kristen Miller, government affairs director of Alaska Wilderness League. “For the past eight years, we have fought hard to keep the drilling rigs out of the Arctic Refuge. Today we hope to put that fight behind us and move forward toward an energy future that includes preserving our nation’s greatest wild treasures, such as the Arctic Refuge.”

The Arctic Refuge is one of the last true wilderness areas left in the United States. It contains valuable habitat for 250 species of wildlife – including caribou, polar bears, grizzly bears and migrating birds. The Porcupine Caribou Herd, which depends on the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge for the calving and nursery for their offspring, has sustained the people of the Gwich’in Nation for over 20,000 years.

Drilling in the Arctic Refuge can not be done with minimal impact on a small area. In fact, the U.S. Geological Survey has shown that oil speculated to be found in the Arctic Refuge is strewn across the entire 1.5 million acre Coastal Plan and would require approximately 800 wells to tap it. That means that, in addition to the roads, airports, gravel mines, pipelines and other infrastructure necessary for drilling, the Coastal Plain would become a virtual pin cushion of oil derricks across a vast wilderness currently untouched by humankind.

“We look forward to working with a president and a Congress that recognize that protecting wild places such as the Arctic Refuge is a core American value,” Miller noted. “It is up to us to preserve this important place for future generations, and to respect the cultures of people that have survived and thrived on these lands and wildlife for thousands of years.”

Sen. Lieberman’s bill is a companion bill to H.R. 39, introduced last week in the House by Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA). Sen. Lieberman has fought aggressively against proposals for drilling in the Arctic Refuge since 1991. He has been the lead sponsor of legislation to designate the Refuge as wilderness since 2001.