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WASHINGTON President Clinton will leave office this month without making the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska a national monument, the White House announced today.
The Arctic refuge, known commonly as ANWR, has an abundance of migrating birds, polar bears, musk oxen, caribou, grizzly bears and other wildlife. Its 120-mile-long coastal plain is believed to have large oil reserves as well.
Environmentalists have pressed Clinton to declare monument status for the coastal plain to ensure its permanent protection from oil development. Both President-elect Bush and Vice President-elect Dick Cheney have backgrounds in the oil industry, and Bush has made drilling in the reserve a major part of his proposed energy plan.
Using the authority of the 1906 Antiquities Act, Clinton has created a dozen federal monuments this year by executive order.
"We believe, after consulting with our environmental team, that ANWR has something that some of the other areas we looked at does not have, ... legislative protective status, which is higher than that conferred to monuments," White House spokesman Jake Siewert said.
Monument designation provides increased protection against development. Such protection already is written into law for the ANWR, Siewert said, legislation from the Carter administration that specifically prevents oil drilling.
Lawmakers can enact legislation to allow development, but "it would be very hard to open it up to drilling given the narrow split that exists in Congress," Siewert said.
The Senate is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, with Cheney's constitutional tie-breaking vote as the Senate's presiding office the only difference. The GOP commands a small majority in the House.
If the president gave out monument status, the next president alone could try to reverse it, Siewert said. This way, "They're going to have to go through Congress to do it, and we don't think Congress would be wise to open that area to drilling," he said.
On the Net: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: http://www.r7.fws.gov/nwr/arctic/arctic.html