Alaska Gov. Criticizes Jimmy Carter

Friday, August 25th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Gov. Tony Knowles angrily criticized former President Carter for traveling to Alaska to lobby for national monument status for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge's coastal plain.

Carter is in Alaska this week to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980, one of the last laws he signed before leaving office.

Carter said Wednesday that he regrets that he let the lands act pass under his pen without settling the future of the coastal plain, and urged that President Clinton decide the issue once and for all by using the Antiquities Act of 1906 to set aside the region as a national monument.

That prompted Knowles to send an angry letter to his fellow Democrat.

``Without any meaningful dialogue with the people of Alaska, you used our state as a media prop and platform to project your message to President Clinton,'' Knowles fumed.

Knowles went on to tell Carter the refuge's future should be decided by wide debate rather than a last-minute, unilateral action by an outgoing president ``at the midnight hour.''

The 1.5-million-acre coastal plain refuge is believed by many to sit atop billions of barrels of crude. A national monument designation would place the region off-limits to drilling.

Supporters of development say drilling for oil would be in the best interests of Alaska's economy and an energy-thirsty nation. But the area is seen by conservationists, in Alaska and elsewhere, as pristine and ecologically valuable for caribou, bears and other wildlife.

Knowles said he has been assured several times by the Clinton administration that there are no plans to declare the refuge a national monument. But the governor said his confidence in those assurances has been shaken since Carter weighed in on the issue.

The Alaska lands legislation signed by Carter in 1980 — a month before he left office — added more than 100 million acres, an area the size of California, to Alaska's national parks, wildlife refuges, national forests and wildlands.

``Of all the things I've ever done, nothing exceeds my pride that I was given a small role to play in the passage of this legislation,'' Carter said Wednesday.

Cecil Andrus, former Idaho governor and interior secretary under Carter, echoed the former president's call.

``In the Lower 48, we fight to save some single remnant of an area that's already been ruined,'' Andrus said. ``Here in Alaska we have a chance to do it right the first time.''

But Carl Portman, a spokesman for the Resource Development Council of Alaska, said monument status for the coastal plain ``would needlessly lock up what could be the equivalent of 30 years of Saudi oil imports into the United States.''