ANCHORAGE -- A legal analysis prepared for the Alaska Legislature says it would be against the law for the president to make the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge a national monument.
A monument designation, called for by former President Jimmy Carter and numerous environmental groups, would bar oil drilling permanently in the coastal plain. The area, thought to hold large oil deposits, is protected from drilling.
Senate President Drue Pearce released the legal opinion from the Patton Boggs law firm at a news conference in Anchorage on Tuesday.
"I believe the state must be prepared to respond immediately if there is a designation of ANWR as a national monument," the Anchorage Republican said. She noted the Legislature does not have legal standing to sue, but Knowles does.
Knowles spokesman Bob King said the governor has not heard that the president will make ANWR a national monument. But Knowles opposes the designation.
"We have let the White House know that if they do move toward monument status, the state of Alaska would oppose it with any and all means possible," King said.
Pearce said the legal opinion provides a counter to the position held by environmental groups that monument status would be legal. The argument involves a clause in the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act that says no more lands in Alaska beyond those designated in the act can be withdrawn from development without congressional action.
"They've (environmental groups) been saying the 'no more' clause is unconstitutional. We thought that ought to be challenged," Pearce said. She said the issue goes beyond ANWR to development limits on other federal lands in Alaska.
One environmental attorney said the opinion provides no new legal ammunition.
"I don't see any smoking gun in there at all," said Valerie Brown, a staff attorney for Trustees for Alaska. "I see them mustering everything they can to stop a withdrawal."
Pearce said the Legislature's legal opinion cost $15,000 to $20,000.