Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) Tuesday cautioned the federal government against retracting its promise not to designate the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) as wilderness.

Murkowski's remarks were in response to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (FWS) announcement Monday that the agency plans to conduct three wilderness reviews this winter in an attempt to potentially lock up the coastal plain of ANWR under permanent wilderness designations. The three wilderness reviews will encompass almost all refuge lands that are not currently designated as wilderness, according to FWS.

The coastal plain, or the 1002 area of ANWR, was set aside by Congress for oil and natural gas development more than three decades ago, but it has remained off-limits to producers. In 1995 Congress passed legislation to allow exploration on 1.5 million acres of the coastal plain, but then-President Clinton vetoed the bill. No area of the coastal plain currently is designated as wilderness.

"This is a blatant political move by the administration and clearly violates the promise of no more administrative wilderness designations in Alaska," Murkowski said. She said the FWS lacks the authority to conduct wilderness reviews in Alaska without the express consent of Congress.

As the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Murkowski said she would seek to cut off funding and block authorization to further restrict development of Alaska's natural resources.

The FWS said it expects to complete its wilderness reviews by February 2011. If any of the reviews support a wilderness finding, the recommendation would require approval by the director of the FWS, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and President Obama.

Murkowski has not returned to Washington, DC, since her defeat by Joe Miller, a Tea Party-backed candidate and attorney, in the Aug. 24 primary elections. She is waging an independent write-in campaign in the November elections (see Daily GPI, Sept. 21).

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