President Obama has long known that the real decision maker in Iran is Ayatollah Khamenei, the so-called supreme leader. While other Iranian officials have negotiated with Western powers over the mullahs’ nuclear program, Khamenei’s opinion is the only one that really counts. It is for this reason that Obama began writing directly to Khamenei early in his presidency.
Earlier today, Khamenei broke his silence on the supposed “framework” the Obama administration has been trumpeting as the basis for a nuclear accord. Khamenei’s speech pulled the rug out from underneath the administration.
Khamenei accused the Obama administration of “lying” about the proposed terms, being “deceptive,” and having “devilish” intentions, according to multiple published accounts of his speech, as well as posts on his official Twitter feed.
Khamenei also disputed the key terms Obama administration officials have said were agreed upon in principle. Economic sanctions will not be phased out once Iran’s compliance has been “verified,” according to the Ayatollah. Instead, Khamenei said that if the U.S. wants a deal, then all sanctions must be dropped as soon as the agreement is finalized. Khamenei also put strict limits on the reach of the inspectors who would be tasked with this verification process in the first place.
Beginning earlier this month and in the days since, Obama and his advisers have attempted to portray the negotiations as major step forward. During an appearance in the Rose Garden on April 2, Obama said the U.S. and its allies have “reached a historic understanding with Iran.”
Khamenei does not agree. “There was no need to take a position” on the supposed deal before today, Khamenei said. “The officials are saying that nothing has been done yet and nothing is obligatory. I neither agree nor disagree [with any deal].”
“What has been done so far does not guarantee an agreement, nor its contents, nor even that the negotiations will continue to the end,” Khamenei elaborated.
“I neither support nor oppose it,” Khamenei reportedly said of the proposed deal. “Everything is in the details; it may be that the deceptive other side wants to restrict us in the details.”
It gets much worse.
When Obama announced that a “framework” for the deal was in place earlier this month, the administration released a fact sheet purportedly showing the agreed upon “parameters.” The White House said the terms outlined in the fact sheet “reflect the significant progress that has been made in discussions between the P5+1, the European Union, and Iran.”
Khamenei would beg to differ.
“The White House put out a statement just a few hours after our negotiators finished their talks…this statement, which they called a ‘fact sheet’, was wrong on most of the issues,” Khamenei said, according to Reuters. Khamenei added that the fact sheet, which doesn’t match Iran’s understanding, exposes America’s “devilish” intentions.
Khamenei’s social media team emphasized many of these points on his official Twitter feed, which published quotes from his speech. One tweet reads: “It’s all about the details. The disloyal side may want to stab #Iran in the back over the details; It is too early to congratulate. #IranTalks.”
Seaborne radiation from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster has reached North America.
Scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution detected small amounts of cesium-134 and cesium-137 in a sample of seawater taken in February from a dock on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
It’s the first time radioactivity from the March 2011 triple meltdown has been identified on West Coast shores.
Woods Hole chemical oceanographer Ken Buesseler emphasized that the radiation is at very low levels that aren’t expected to harm human health or the environment.
“Even if the levels were twice as high, you could still swim in the ocean for six hours every day for a year and receive a dose more than a thousand times less than a single dental X-ray,” Buesseler said. “While that’s not zero, that’s a very low risk.”
Massive amounts of contaminated water were released from the crippled nuclear plant following a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami. More radiation was released to the air, then fell to the sea.
Frustrated by the absence of monitoring by U.S. federal agencies, Buesseler last year launched a crowd-funded, citizen-science seawater sampling project.
He’s tracked the radiation plume across 5,000 miles of the Pacific Ocean, using highly sensitive, expensive equipment at his Cape Cod, Massachusetts, laboratory. There, he analyzes samples sent to him by West Coast volunteers and scientists aboard research cruises.
The Vancouver Island sample was taken Feb. 19 from a dock in Ucluelet, a working harbor community in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.
It contained 1.5 becquerels per cubic meter (Bq/m3) of cesium-134, the Fukushima fingerprint, and 5 Bq/m3 of cesium-137. A becquerel is a basic unit of radioactivity.
That compares to 50 million Bq/m3 of the isotopes near Japan just after the meltdown and about 1,000 Bq/m3 near Japan now, Buesseler said.
Scientific models have predicted that in general, the plume would hit the shore in the north first, then head south toward California.
That may be difficult to document, however, because Buesseler’s sampling is not regular or systematic and depends on volunteer fundraising.
In Oregon, particularly, there have been only four sampling sites, and only one still is active.
And ocean currents can be unpredictable.
“We expect more of the sites will show detectable levels of cesium-134 in coming months, but ocean currents and exchange between offshore and coastal waters is quite complex,” Buesseler said. “Predicting the spread of radiation becomes more complex the closer it gets to the coast, and we need the public’s help to continue this sampling network.”
Buesseler’s group has recently teamed with a similar, Canadian-funded program called InFORM, led by Jay Cullen at the University of Victoria, Canada. It will add about a dozen monitoring stations along the coast of British Columbia.
Cruises with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, will add about 10 new sampling sites offshore.
And Woods Hole has received support from the National Science Foundation to analyze about 250 seawater samples that will be collected next month on a research ship traveling between Hawaii and the Aleutian Islands in Alaska.
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To learn more about the radiation monitoring project, visit www.ourradioactiveocean.org. The most recent seawater sampling results will be posted on the site by midday Monday, April 6.
WASHINGTON — Negotiators at the nuclear talks in Switzerland emerged from marathon talks on Thursday with a surprisingly detailed outline of the agreement they now must work to finalize by the end of June.
But one problem is that there are two versions.
The only joint document issued publicly was a statement from Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, and Federica Mogherini, the European Union foreign policy chief, that was all of seven paragraphs.
The statement listed about a dozen “parameters” that are to guide the next three months of talks, including the commitment that Iran’s Natanz installation will be the only location at which uranium is enriched during the life of the agreement.
But the United States and Iran have also made public more detailed accounts of their agreements in Lausanne, and those accounts underscore their expectations for what the final accord should say.
A careful review shows that there is considerable overlap between the two accounts, but also some noteworthy differences — which have raised the question of whether the two sides are entirely on the same page, especially on the question of how quickly sanctions are to be removed.
The American and Iranian statements also do not clarify some critical issues, such as precisely what sort of research Iran will be allowed to undertake on advanced centrifuges during the first 10 years of the accord.
“This is just a work in progress, and those differences in fact sheets indicate the challenges ahead,” said Olli Heinonen, the former deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Obama administration officials insist that there is no dispute on what was agreed behind closed doors. But to avoid time-consuming deliberations on what would be said publicly, the two sides decided during Wednesday’s all-night discussions that each would issue its own statement.
American officials acknowledge that they did not inform the Iranians in advance of all the “parameters” the United States would make public in an effort to lock in progress made so far, as well as to strengthen the White House’s case against any move by members of Congress to impose more sanctions against Iran.
“We talked to them and told them that we would have to say some things,” said a senior administration official who could not be identified under the protocol for briefing reporters. “We didn’t show them the paper. We didn’t show them the whole list.”
The official acknowledged that it was “understood that we had different narratives, but we wouldn’t contradict each other.”
No sooner were the negotiations over on Thursday, however, than Mr. Zarif posted to Twitter a message that dismissed the five-page set of American parameters as “spin.”
In an appearance on Iranian state television Saturday, Mr. Zarif kept up that refrain, saying that Iran had formally complained to Secretary of State John Kerry that the measures listed in the American statement were “in contradiction” to what had actually been accepted in Lausanne.
Mr. Zarif, however, did not challenge any nuclear provisions in the American document. Instead, he complained that the paper had been drawn up under Israeli and congressional pressure, and he restated Iran’s insistence on fast sanctions relief, including the need to “terminate,” not just suspend, European Union sanctions.
David Albright, the president of the Institute for Science and International Security and an expert who has closely monitored the nuclear talks, said that Mr. Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani of Iran may be engaged in their own spin to camouflage the significance of the concessions they made.
“Iran conceded a considerable amount in this deal, and Zarif and Rouhani may want to break the news back home slowly,” Mr. Albright said.
Assuming that was the Iranians’ motivation, Mr. Albright noted a potential downside to the tactics.
“When negotiations resume, Iran may believe it created additional room to backtrack on its commitments, assuming the U.S. is right about what was agreed in the room,” he added.
A review of the dueling American and Iranian statements show that they differ in some important respects. The American statement says that Iran has agreed to shrink its stockpile of uranium to 300 kilograms, a commitment the Iranian statement does not mention.
The Iranian statement emphasizes that nuclear cooperation between Iran and the six world powers that negotiated the agreement will grow, including in the construction of nuclear power plants, research reactors and the use of isotopes for medical research. That potential cooperation is not mentioned in the American statement.
The American statement says that Iran will be barred from using its advanced centrifuges to produce uranium for at least 10 years. Before those 10 years are up, Iran will be able to conduct some “limited” research on the centrifuges. The Iranian version omits the word “limited.”
In other cases, the two sides agree on some measures, but explain the implications very differently. In an important compromise, Iran will be allowed to convert its Fordo underground nuclear installation to a science and technology center.
In explaining this provision, the American statement notes that almost two-thirds of the centrifuges at Fordo will be removed and that none of those that remain will be used to enrich uranium for 15 years. The provision, Obama administration officials assert, carries no serious risk for the United States but will enable the Iranians to save face.
The Iranian statement stresses that the deal means that more than 1,000 of the centrifuges will be kept there, though it suggests only several hundred will be in operation to produce industrial or medical isotopes. As reported by Iranian journalists, Abbas Araqchi, the country’s deputy foreign minister, said that the modifications made at the Fordo installation could be rapidly reversed if the United States did not hold up its end of the deal.
The starkest differences between the American and Iranians accounts concern the pace at which punishing economic sanctions against Iran are to be removed. The Iranian text says that when the agreement is implemented, the sanctions will “immediately” be canceled.
American officials have described sanctions relief as more of a step-by-step process tied to Iranian efforts to carry out the accord.
“We fully expected them to emphasize things that are helpful in terms of selling this at home,” said a second Obama administration official, who was granted anonymity to discuss the deliberations. “We believe that everything in our document will not need to be renegotiated.”
But with three months of hard bargaining ahead, some experts worry that the lack of an agreed-upon, detailed public framework can only complicate the negotiations — and may even invite the Iranians to try to relitigate the terms of the Lausanne deal.
“I think it is a troubling development,” said Ray Takeyh, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who has been critical of the Obama administration’s handling of the talks. “They will exploit all ambiguities with creative interpretations.”
Republicans warn world that Obama U.N. plan could be undone
By Valerie Volcovici | Reuters
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Obama administration’s plan for U.N. climate change talks encountered swift opposition after its release Tuesday, with Republican leaders warning other countries to “proceed with caution” in negotiations with Washington because any deal could be later undone.
The White House is seeking to enshrine its pledge in a global climate agreement to be negotiated Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 in Paris. It calls for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by close to 28 percent from 2005 levels within a decade, using a host of existing laws and executive actions targeting power plants, vehicles, oil and gas production and buildings.
But Republican critics say the administration lacks the political and legal backing to commit the United States to an international agreement.
“Considering that two-thirds of the U.S. federal government hasn’t even signed off on the Clean Power Plan and 13 states have already pledged to fight it, our international partners should proceed with caution before entering into a binding, unattainable deal,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.
U.S. officials stressed that their Intended Nationally Determined Contribution, U.N. lingo for its official submission, stands on sound legal footing, with the measures drawing authority from legislation such as the Clean Air Act and the Energy Independence and Security Act.
Todd Stern, the lead U.S. climate change negotiator, said he frequently tells foreign counterparts that “undoing the kind of regulation we are putting in place is very tough to do.”
But elements of the administration’s climate policy already face legal challenges. On April 16, a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. will hear arguments from 13 states opposed to as-yet-unfinalized regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that target emissions in existing power plants.
And McConnell’s warnings echoed the tone of a March 9 “open letter” from 47 Republican senators to Iran, in which they warned a Republican president would not be bound to honor a nuclear agreement struck by Democrat Obama without congressional approval, calling it a “mere executive agreement.”
Some observers said that resistance to the administration’s climate policies leaves foreign governments questioning whether Obama’s commitments can last.
“By strenuously invoking EPA regulations, the Administration is trying to convince skeptical international audiences that the U.S. can actually deliver on its new climate goals, despite Republican resistance,” said Paul Bledsoe, a former Clinton White House official who is now with the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
“But major capitals are likely to remain nervous.”
The administration is clearly sensitive to the threat. Power plants are the biggest domestic source of greenhouse gas emissions, and the EPA is seeking to use its power to slash carbon levels from plants to 30 percent of their 2005 levels by 2020.
On Monday, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said the agency had designed power plant rules under the authority of the Clean Air Act – and insisted that they can withstand Supreme Court scrutiny.
“We don’t need a plan B if we are solid on our plan A,” she said.
But Jeff Holmstead, a lawyer representing utilities industries for Bracewell & Giuliani and former assistant administrator of the EPA under George W Bush, says even if the courts uphold the EPA proposal on power plants, a future Republican administration can reverse it.
“There are some EPA rules that are very difficult for a new administration to change but this is not one of those rules,” Holmstead said. He calculates that at least five high court justices are wary of the EPA’s regulatory leeway.
Environmental groups, on the other hand, were more confident that Obama’s measures cannot be reversed by the courts or politics.
“The Clean Air Act has proven to be quite durable,” said David Waskow, director of international initiatives for the World Resources Institute. “While elements may be slowed or modified by legal challenges, they are rarely overturned.”
(Reporting By Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Bruce Wallace and Grant McCool)
An Iranian journalist writing about the nuclear negotiations between the United States and Iran has defected. In an interview Amir Hossein Motaghi, has some harsh words for his native Iran. He also has a damning indictment of America’s role in the nuclear negotiations.
“The U.S. negotiating team are mainly there to speak on Iran’s behalf with other members of the 5+1 countries and convince them of a deal,” Motaghi told a TV station after just defecting from the Iranian delegation while abroad for the nuclear talks. The P 5 + 1 is made up of United States, United Kingdom, Russia, China, France, plus Germany.
A close media aide to Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian president, has sought political asylum in Switzerland after travelling to Lausanne to cover the nuclear talks between Tehran and the West.
Amir Hossein Motaghi, who managed public relations for Mr Rouhani during his 2013 election campaign, was said by Iranian news agencies to have quit his job at the Iran Student Correspondents Association (ISCA).
He then appeared on an opposition television channel based in London to say he no longer saw any “sense” in his profession as a journalist as he could only write what he was told.
“There are a number of people attending on the Iranian side at the negotiations who are said to be journalists reporting on the negotiations,” he told Irane Farda television. “But they are not journalists and their main job is to make sure that all the news fed back to Iran goes through their channels.
“My conscience would not allow me to carry out my profession in this manner any more.” Mr Mottaghi was a journalist and commentator who went on to use social media successfully to promote Mr Rouhani to a youthful audience that overwhelmingly elected him to power.
Republicans undercut nuclear deal with warning to Iran
WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican lawmakers warned the leaders of Iran on Monday that any nuclear deal they cut with President Barack Obama could expire the day he leaves office. The White House denounced the GOP’s latest effort to undercut the international negotiations as a “rush to war.”
Monday’s open letter from 47 GOP senators marked an unusually public and aggressive attempt to undermine Obama and five world powers as negotiators try to strike an initial deal by the end of March to limit Iran’s nuclear programs.
Republicans say a deal would be insufficient and unenforceable, and they have made a series of proposals to undercut or block it — from requiring Senate say-so on any agreement to ordering new penalty sanctions against Iran or even making a pre-emptive declaration of war.
Obama, noting that some in Iran also want no part of any deal, said “I think it’s somewhat ironic that some members of Congress want to make common cause with the hardliners in Iran. It’s an unusual coalition.”
The letter was written by freshman Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who opposes negotiations with Iran. It’s addressed to the “Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran” and presents itself as a constitutional primer to the government of an American adversary. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky’s signature is on it, as are those of several prospective presidential candidates.
Explaining the difference between a Senate-ratified treaty and a mere agreement between Obama and Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the senators warned: “The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen, and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif responded via state media, dismissing the letter as a “propaganda ploy” and noting that many international deals are “mere executive agreements.” He suggested the senators were undermining not only the prospective deal with Iran but other international agreements as well.
With Cotton presiding over the Senate on Monday, Democratic leader Harry Reid spoke out, saying Republicans were driven by animosity toward Obama and unwilling to recognize that American voters had twice elected him president.
“Let’s be very clear: Republicans are undermining our commander-in-chief while empowering the ayatollahs,” Reid said.
“Republicans don’t know how to do anything other than juvenile political attacks against the president,” the 75-year-old Reid said with the 37-year-old Cotton listening.
The Republicans’ move to stop a nuclear deal with Iran comes just days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to a joint meeting of Congress at Republican House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation. In his address, Netanyahu bluntly warned the United States that a deal would pave Iran’s path to a nuclear bomb.
The White House denounced Cotton’s letter, saying it was part of an ongoing partisan strategy to undermine the president’s ability to conduct foreign policy.
Press secretary Josh Earnest said that “the rush to war, or at least the rush to the military option, that many Republicans are advocating is not at all in the best interest of the United States.”
Not all Republican senators are united. One significant signature missing from Monday’s letter was Bob Corker of Tennessee, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman. Action on any new legislation challenging the administration’s strategy would be likely to begin with him.
Still, even if all parties to the international talks reject the letter as a stunt, the mounting opposition to an accord could have repercussions. Negotiating alongside the U.S. are Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.
The Obama administration believes it has authority to lift most trade, oil and financial sanctions that would be pertinent to the nuclear deal in exchange for an Iranian promise to limit its nuclear programs. For the rest, it needs Congress’ approval. And lawmakers could approve new Iran sanctions to complicate matters.
Nuclear negotiations resume next week in Switzerland. Officials say the parties have been speaking about a multi-step agreement that would freeze Iran’s uranium enrichment program for at least a decade before gradually lifting restrictions. Sanctions relief would similarly be phased in.
Iran says its program is solely for peaceful energy and medical research purposes. The deadline for the whole agreement is July.
In the letter, Cotton and his colleagues stressed that presidents may serve only eight years while senators can remain in office for decades. The implication was that without Congress’ blessing, the deal could fall apart when Obama’s successor is sworn in in January 2017.
The deal taking shape is not a treaty. Under international law, the provisions of treaties are far more binding than other agreements.
But by themselves, congressional Republicans won’t be able to block an international agreement.
McConnell has spoken of action later this month authorizing Congress to take a yes-or-no vote on a deal. But that vote would be symbolic.
Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Steve Peoples and Jim Kuhnhenn in Washington and Cara Anna at the United Nations contributed to this report.
(Reuters) – Crude oil prices rose on Monday as investors shrugged off a U.S. refinery strike and focused on a falling U.S. rig count that signaled lower production down the line.
“There were a lot of people on the sidelines waiting for an opportunity to buy,” said Bjarne Schieldrop, chief commodity analyst at SEB.
“Brent has struggled sideways for a long time but it closed above the 20-day moving average on Friday for the first time since July, and the rig count is falling sharply. So now they think, maybe this is the time to buy.”
At 6:49 a.m. ET Brent crude futures were up $2.05 at $55.04 a barrel, after leaping as high as $55.62 and dipping as low as $51.41, as the bulls battled with the bears.
U.S. crude was up $1.50 at $49.74 a barrel, after touching an intraday high of $50.56 and slumping to $46.67.
Both contracts had rallied about 8 percent on Friday, fueled by month-end short-covering and a record weekly drop in the number of U.S. oil rigs employed, according to industry data from Baker Hughes. The count is now down 24 percent from its October peak.
“Most market observers have been surprised by the scale of the decrease, and expectations of U.S. oil output this year will no doubt be lowered accordingly,” analysts at Commerzbank said in a note. “The foundation for a steady price recovery in the second half of the year has thus been laid.”
However, in the short term the price increase has been exaggerated, as there is still considerable oversupply, they added.
Harry Tchilinguirian, head of commodity markets strategy at BNP Paribas, said the bounce was mainly due to technical factors rather than any fundamental reason.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if this afternoon we sell into (the rally) because the global fundamentals in oil and the economy haven’t really changed much since last week,” he said.
On Sunday, workers at nine U.S. refineries and chemical plants went on strike in an effort to pressure oil companies to agree to a new national contract.
“So far only a handful of refineries have been affected, but the last time they went on strike like this, in 1980, it lasted for three months,” said Ole Hansen, senior commodity strategist at Saxo Bank.
Last week U.S. crude inventories hit a record high, and any dampening of refinery demand would likely push stocks higher as the slowdown in drilling has still not affected U.S. production, analysts said. [EIA/S]
“The market is likely too excited about falling rig counts,” analysts at Morgan Stanley said in a note on Monday. “The most productive rigs will likely remain as long as possible.”
ISIS seizes oil facility in northern Iraq, 15 workers missing
(Reuters) – Islamic State insurgents on Saturday seized a small crude oil station near the northern Iraqi city Kirkuk where 15 employees were working, and explosions in and around the capital Baghdad killed at least nine people.
Two officials from the state-run North Oil Co confirmed the militants seized a crude oil separation unit in Khabbaz and said 15 oil workers were missing after the company lost contact with them.
“We received a call from one of the workers saying dozens of Daesh fighters were surrounding the facility and asking workers to leave the premises. We lost contact and now the workers might be taken hostage,” an engineer from the North Oil Co told Reuters, using a derogatory acronym for Islamic State.
The radical jihadist movement seized at least four small oilfields when it overran large areas of northern Iraq last summer, and began selling crude oil and gasoline to finance their operations.
Islamic State insurgents attacked regional Kurdish forces southwest of Kirkuk on Friday, seizing some areas including parts of the Khabbaz oilfields.
Kurdish peshmerga forces sought to push back Islamic State in further fighting near Khabbaz on Saturday, Kurdish military sources said.
Khabbaz is a small oilfield 20 km (12 miles) southwest of Kirkuk with a maximum production capacity of 15,000 barrels per day. It was producing around 10,000 bpd before the attack.
Further south in Baghdad, two bombs in a central neighborhood and a farming district south of the capital killed at least seven civilians on Saturday, medics and police said.
Two soldiers were killed when a bomb exploded close to an army patrol near Taji, a predominantly Sunni Muslim rural district north of Baghdad.
At least 24 others were wounded in the explosions.
In Falluja in the western province of Anbar, hospital sources said five people, including two children, were killed during Iraqi army shelling of Islamic State positions. They said at least 44 others were wounded, including 19 civilians.
It is difficult to confirm reports from hospitals in the area, which is mostly controlled by Islamic State militants.
Islamic State has declared a medieval-style caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria to rule over all Muslims, and it poses the biggest challenge to the stability of OPEC member Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
(Reporting by Mustafa Mahmoud in Kirkuk, Stephen Kalin in Baghdad; Writing by Ahmed Rasheed; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
President Obama announced Sunday that his administration plans to lock up the oil-rich 1.5 million acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain and offshore areas in Alaska from oil and gas exploration.
Obama is asking Congress to designate 12 million acres of ANWR as a “wilderness” to keep it off-limits to development, despite widespread Native Alaskan support for drilling in the area. ANWR’s coastal plain alone is estimated to hold 28 billion barrels of oil.
“Designating vast areas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as Wilderness reflects the significance this landscape holds for America and its wildlife,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.
The Obama administration argues that making ANWR off-limits to development will help protect the region’s wildlife and natural beauty. Obama is also considering ways to prevent new oil production at the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. Environmentalists have long campaigned to hinder oil production in Alaska.
“Just like Yosemite or the Grand Canyon, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of our nation’s crown jewels and we have an obligation to preserve this spectacular place for generations to come,” Jewell added.
But Alaska lawmakers were furious with the administration’s proposal — for decades Alaska Republicans and Democrats have been pushing for opening ANWR to drilling.
“What’s coming is a stunning attack on our sovereignty and our ability to develop a strong economy that allows us, our children and our grandchildren to thrive,” said Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski. “It’s clear this administration does not care about us, and sees us as nothing but a territory.”
The Obama administration has already proposed designating 226 million acres of waters off Alaska’s coast as a critical habitat for the Arctic ringed seal. Alaska’s outer continental shelf is believed to be home to the world’s largest untapped oil and gas reserves. According to Alaska’s Resource Development Council, the outer shelf could hold 27 billion barrels of oil and 132 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
“The promises made to us at statehood, and since then, mean absolutely nothing to them,” Murkowski said. “I cannot understand why this administration is willing to negotiate with Iran, but not Alaska. But we will not be run over like this. We will fight back with every resource at our disposal.”
Alaska’s energy production has been hampered in recent years due largely to federal restrictions and adverse economics. In recent months, the state has seen its financial situation grow worse because of plummeting oil prices. At one point, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline used to transport some 2.1 million barrels per day. It now carries well under 1 million barrels per day. The pipeline has so far only carried oil from state lands, as federal lands have been off-limits. The pipeline will have to be shut down and dismantled if it drops below 300,000 barrels per day.
“This is the best news for the refuge since President Eisenhower established it in 1960 as the Arctic National Wildlife Range,” said Rhea Suh, a former Obama Interior Department official who is now president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It’s a national treasure worthy of the highest protection available for our public lands.”
Environmentalists have been keen on slowing down the flow of oil through the pipeline to make it uneconomical and impractical to get oil from Alaska. Eco-activists have labelled Alaska a ground-zero for global warming, saying shrinking sea ice levels are harming polar bears, wildlife and Native Alaskans — despite evidence to the contrary.