The new Congress wasted little time in taking action on the energy issue that always seems to draw the most headlines: drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska. Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) was joined by Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-MN) in introducing the Udall-Eisenhower Arctic Wilderness Act, which would designate the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as a wilderness area with permanent protections.

Markey and Ramstad introduced the bill as H.R. 39, the original bill number given to former Rep. Morris Udall’s bill that became law in 1980, doubling the size of the wildlife refuge. The new bill would set aside 1.6 million acres in the 1002 area of the refuge as wilderness.

“It is widely believed by ecologists, wildlife scientists, public land specialists and other experts that the wilderness ecosystem centered around and dependent upon the Arctic coastal plain of [ANWR] represents the very epitome of a primeval wilderness ecosystem and constitutes the greatest wilderness area and diversity of wildlife habitats of its kind in the United States,” the bill states. It also notes that despite wilderness protection for this area, about 95% of the North Slope will remain available for energy development.

“Our addiction to oil is real and enduring and still largely untreated,” Markey said. “Drilling in the refuge would amount to a declaration that we remain in denial about this addiction, its impact on our planet and our obligation to future generations.”

Markey referred to rupture of a BP oil pipeline on the North Slope last March that leaked 267,000 gallons of oil onto the arctic tundra. “Prying open the Arctic Refuge for drilling would set a dangerous precedent that would allow the oil companies to select any of the other 544 wildlife refuges as the next target for oil drilling,” he said.

Last year a stand-alone bill to open the coastal plain of ANWR to oil and gas drilling passed the House on a vote of 225 to 201. However, the vote was largely symbolic as backers did not have the Senate votes to overcome a filibuster.

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