The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), located in the Northeastern corner of Alaska, has for the last three decades been the focus of one of the most contentious land-use conflicts in the United States. As a result of the potential oil resources, the ecological significance of the refuge, and the widespread ramifications of any legislative decision to undertake oil exploration on the coastal plain of the ANWR, an array of different actors from various levels of government and society across the United States have taken interest in the refuge. Most significantly, these include the indigenous peoples of Alaska, the State government of Alaska, NGOs, petroleum corporations, and members of Congress and the executive branch. Of these actors, this thesis sets the focus on the role of the president and the executive branch of the federal government in the United States.
During the twentieth century the presidency evolved enormously in terms of size, responsibility, and influence. As a consequence, the president and the executive branch have become subject to extensive scholarly examination. Theories and models pertaining to the study of the presidency, which were developed as the executive branch expanded, constitute the main framework for the thesis. The stewardship theory is a key concept in the thesis as it helps contextualize how presidents can both relate to and are expected to manage environmental and economic policy concerns. The thesis also utilizes theories and models that address aspects such as divided government and legislative-executive relations, and the president’s formal and informal powers. Moreover, as the question over drilling for oil on the coastal plain is an intrinsically environmental topic, the thesis also necessarily employs—as a method to provide a thorough analysis of the presidential aspect of the debate—relevant research from the environmental studies field.
The question over drilling for oil on the coastal plain of the ANWR first emerged as a policy topic during the late 1970s, and although it primarily is a congressional issue, all presidents from Jimmy Carter through to George W. Bush have formulated and practiced distinct policies on the use of the ANWR. In order to achieve a comprehensive understanding of how the aforementioned presidents and their administrations affected the ANWR debate, this thesis explores and answers the following four interrelated questions: Firstly, how, and to what extent have the presidents of the relevant period been influential participants in the proceedings determining the best collective utilization of the ANWR? Secondly, what were the motivational factors behind these presidents’ ANWR policies? Thirdly, how can models and theories, subsumed under the study of the presidency, help explain presidential involvement and decisions on the ANWR issue? And finally, were the presidents’ ANWR policies reflective of how they approached larger environmental and energy policy themes?