An "old friend" cleared the first hurdle of its annual journey through the Alaska Legislature on Friday, with the House of Representatives passing a request to Congress to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.
Sponsoring Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, said the yearly resolution shows the state's ability to work toward a common goal - resource development.
The resolution passed on a 26-4 vote. Four Democratic lawmakers - Reps. Beth Kerttula of Juneau, Woodie Salmon of Beaver, and Sharon Cissna and Les Gara of Anchorage - opposed the resolution. Ten other House members were absent or excused for the Friday session.
Kerttula argued that the state should focus its efforts on less controversial projects, such as the gas pipeline, and that some wilderness areas, such as ANWR, should be preserved.
"The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a very special place and it doesn't have the kind of grandeur that maybe Mount McKinley has or even, I would argue, some places here in Southeast," Kerttula said. "In fact, it doesn't really take your breath away at first sight, but it has a subtle, growing beauty."
Kerttula also opposed the resolution because of the threat that development poses to the migratory Porcupine caribou herd upon which the Gwich'in Athabascans who live in the ANWR area rely.
Rep. Salmon, a Gwich'in, inserted language in the resolution acknowledging the group's reliance on the caribou.
"For thousands of years the Gwich'in people from my area have depended on this food source. It's not only food - it's clothing, it's tools of how we used to live and how we live today," Salmon said.
Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, said he believes opening ANWR is part of homeland security and will help the country reduce its reliance on foreign oil.
"Opening ANWR is something that would be good for the United States of America and good for Alaskans," he said.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.