Wall Street Journal OpEd: Obama’s Alaska Wilderness Head Fake

President Obama’s plan to designate 12 million acres as wilderness in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge did not fool Alaskans. The announcement in January revealed his goal of starving the trans-Alaska pipeline by stranding tens of billions of barrels of American oil permanently under the Arctic tundra, and turning the state into a giant national park. 

Given the huge importance the oil industry plays in employing Alaskans and funding state services, the president’s plan will wreak havoc on the state and especially its middle class. Gov. Bill Walker and nearly every member of the state legislature are united with the majority of Alaskans and Alaska Native leaders in opposition. 

But the rest of the country should also oppose—and even fear—Mr. Obama’s determination to lock up the state. Here’s why: 

First, putting tens of billions of barrels of oil and gas off limits will undermine one of the country’s greatest potential security assets. In recent weeks the Senate Armed Services Committee, on which I sit, has held hearings with some of America’s wisest foreign-policy experts— Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Madeleine Albright and several four-star generals. All testified about the unprecedented national security challenges the U.S. faces, and the strategies to keep America strong and safe. All agreed, along with new Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, that the U.S. ability to become the world’s energy superpower through natural gas, oil and renewable-energy production would dramatically increase national and economic security. 

The U.S. could use this newfound strength in dealing with Iran, Russia or terrorist groups throughout the Middle East that leverage energy for political purposes. 

The administration’s Alaska plan also undermines the rule of law. In December 2012 the president issued an executive order that ignored Congress and the law by removing half of the 23-million-acre National Petroleum Reserve of Alaska from oil and gas development. Yet this area was set aside by Congress in 1923 specifically for oil and gas development. 

Mr. Obama’s recent announcement to put the coastal plain of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) into wilderness status was a similar but more devious ploy. Under the 1964 Wilderness Act only Congress can designate the ANWR coastal plain as wilderness, which would forever lock up this region for energy development. With potentially billions of barrels of oil under the plain, there is no chance that Congress would do so. Nevertheless, the White House has said that it will soon introduce ANWR wilderness legislation and meanwhile “manage” the ANWR plain as wilderness anyway. 

Sound familiar? This is the “Obama two step.” The president makes a head fake toward respecting the Constitution, then turns around and directs agency action that flouts the very law that he couldn’t get through Congress. 

The two-step list is long and growing: ANWR wilderness, executive amnesty on immigration, numerous changes to ObamaCare, and even a possible nuclear deal with Iran, which the president has said he won’t send to Congress. 

Mr. Obama also employed the two-step against coal miners in states like West Virginia and Kentucky, using legally dubious rules that are effectively shutting down the coal industry. Today it is oil development in Alaska. Tomorrow it will be farmers in Iowa, Indiana or Illinois who will be hurt by new EPA claims to regulate American waters. 

As a freshman senator, I have been surprised that some of my colleagues routinely protect the president’s power grabs by going along with these policies. Yesteryear’s giants in the Senate on both sides of the aisle—Robert Byrd, Daniel Inouye, Scoop Jackson, Ted Stevens—would not have stood for it. They’d be raising the roof over the usurpation of the Senate’s power by any president, regardless of political party. 

Ultimately, the most important leverage we have is the American people. I hear from outraged constituents every day. I see state legislatures, including my own, passing resolutions and laws to combat the president’s unconstitutional power grab. 

Members of Congress must use all of the constitutionally mandated tools to protect the separation of powers and check the president when he overreaches. We have the power of the purse and need to use it. We can also disapprove rules through the Congressional Review Act and the Reins Act, a bill introduced by Sen. Rand Paul that would require Congress to approve major new rules after an economic analysis. We need to begin to restore the government’s constitutional balance, protect individual liberties and unleash the economic might of America. 

Mr. Sullivan, a Republican, is a U.S. senator from Alaska.

By:  Senator Dan Sullivan