The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) spans the complicated and dynamic history of the confluence of issues relating to energy resources, public lands, and the unique approach to Alaska as an example of "wilderness."
During the early 1970s, Americans for the first time faced a clear shortage of the petroleum that they required for every day life. Although the reserves in Alaska were well known, it took the Arab-Oil Embargo of 1973 to convince President Jimmy Carter and others to commit the resources necessary to access the supply. For Carter, development of the Alaskan oil frontier required a compromise. Alaska was not like any other locale and should be treated carefully.
In authorizing the drilling for oil in Northern Alaska and the construction of a Trans-Alaska pipeline to Valdez in 1977, Carter vowed to also preserve the remaining Alaskan wilderness. From 1978-1980, President Jimmy Carter established the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and set aside 28% of Alaska as wilderness. Carter announced this watershed legislation as follows: “We have the imagination and the will as a people to both develop our last great natural frontier and also preserve its priceless beauty for our children….” With the passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) in 1980, the BLM was ordered to oversee 11 million acres of Alaska as wilderness, including ANWR. The symbolic role of Alaska for environmentalists and friends of wilderness was clear to Carter.
ANILCA provides management guidelines for all public lands in Alaska including those used for transportation, utility corridors, oil and gas leasing, mining, and other wilderness designations and natural resource management uses. A mandatory study reviewed the coastal plain of the Artic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for oil and gas potential and recommendations from the Secretary to authorize gas and oil leasing were due 5 years and 9 months after enactment of the Act. In 1984, Congress repealed language adjustments to expedite judicial review of lawsuits filed over administrative decisions concerning the transportation and utility corridor provisions of the Act. Another amendment was passed in 1987 when Congress made technical changes to section 1008 to conform to the general revision of the onshore oil and gas leasing program for non-North Slope federal lands nationwide.
ANILCA demonstrates that the ethic with which resources are managed is a product of culture. In recent years, political leaders have consistently attempted to adjust the wording of this act in order to access the supply of crude oil. Thus far, environmentalists and others have kept the expansion of drilling at bay.
- Coates, Peter A. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline Controversy. Anchorage: Univ. of Alaska Press, 1991.
- Horowitz, Daniel. Jimmy Carter and the Energy Crisis of the 1970s. Boston: St. Martin's, 2005.
- National Parks Conservation Association homepage.
- US Fish and Wildlife Service. Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980.