As the Bureau of Land Management prepares for a round of public meetings on a recently released draft environmental impact statement on drilling in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, a difference in opinion has sprung up between two Alaska congressional members on just how much of the reserve should be opened for exploration and development and how much should remain protected land.

The draft EIS, published last month, presents four options for areas to be open for development, only one of which opens up the entire reserve including the controversial area of Teshekpuk Lake and the surrounding wetlands that have been protected under previous administrations.

A spokeswoman for Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski said the three-term senator supports development in some of the reserve but wants to keep the lake protected.

“While Sen. Murkowski is still reviewing the newly released draft EIS, she continues to believe that certain areas of the NPR-A, such as Teshekpuk Lake, need to be managed so that their ecological and habitat values are protected,” said Tonya Parish, press secretary for the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. 

Former President Barack Obama, during his second term, pushed through legislation that protected a larger area of the reserve including land around the lake, a move Murkowski doesn’t agree with.

“She recognizes that federal law prioritizes petroleum production in the petroleum reserve, and continues to believe the Obama-era Integrated Activity Plan was far too restrictive,” Parish wrote in an email to the Daily News-Miner.

Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young, however, is pushing a more development-minded approach — one that doesn’t leave any of the reserve off limits.

“This EIS was an important step toward reversing what he believes to be an overly-restrictive Obama-era IAP,” said Zack Brown, spokesman for Young. “Congressman Young is a conservationist and therefore supports protections that safeguard Alaska’s unique environment and biodiversity, while also permitting responsible energy development for all areas within NPR-A, including Teshekpuk Lake.”

Young called the Obama-era IAP an “overly restrictive disaster for Alaskans” in a recent statement on the matter.

Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan seems to have taken a middle ground between his two colleagues, supporting what a spokesman calls “reasonable restrictions” regarding development near the currently protected wetland area.

“Senator Sullivan agrees that we need to protect the sensitive and important Teshekpuk Lake area with reasonable restrictions. However, the Obama administration’s efforts went too far and sought to lock up lands to development that Congress sought to develop under federal statute,” said Mike Anderson, a spokesman for Sullivan. “Senator Sullivan encourages (the BLM) to balance new development with reasonable restrictions for the Teshekpuk Lake area, while taking into account the views and concerns of all stakeholders.”

The BLM will host a public meeting on the draft EIS for the NPR-A from 6-9 p.m. Dec. 18 at the Morris Thompson Center in Fairbanks.

Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.