Rep. Edward Markey on Wednesday reintroduced a bill to designate the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as a wilderness area. If successful, the move would put the refuge -- and its estimated 11 billion barrels of recoverable oil -- beyond the reach of oil companies perhaps forever.
Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, has introduced his ANWR wilderness bill in every session of Congress since 2001. The bill would designate the refuge's oil-rich coastal plain as wilderness area.
Markey's bill this year comes soon after the refuge's 50th anniversary, and after the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. He said that spill has raised persistent concerns about the oil industry's ability to clean up spills, especially in the Arctic where cleanup likely would be more difficult.
Republicans took control of the U.S. House on Wednesday after winning a majority in November's election.
Markey, now the ranking Democratic member of the House Natural Resources Committee, said in a news release that the bill was introduced ahead of a coming committee debate over expanding drilling "into our last pristine wild places."
"If we don't enact permanent protections for the refuge, oil companies and their allies in Congress will continue to push for shortsighted plans to drill our last pristine wild places," Markey said. "Rather than drilling in the Arctic refuge, we should be using safer, cleaner forms of energy made here in America to create a refuge from foreign oil."
Officials with the Alaska Oil and Gas Association were not available for comment.
Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, said the refuge's coastal plain is home to some of America's most iconic species, including polar bears, grizzly bears, wolves, wolverines, muskoxen and more than 130 species of migratory birds.
"Some places are too special to drill," she said.
Last month, more than 80 members of Congress, 170 scientists, some 300 businesses and organizations and 22 religious organizations signed letters encouraging President Obama to designate ANWR's coastal plain a national monument. That, too, if granted, would put the refuge beyond the reach of oil companies.