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Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Caribou spread across the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge's coastal plain.

Ethically, environmentally and economically untenable.”

That’s how six former Interior Department officials describe the prospect of opening a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling.

Fish and wildlife leaders from the Nixon, Clinton, G.W. Bush and Obama administrations penned the letter and sent it to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, is the chairwoman of the committee, which also counts Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., among its members.

Murkowski introduced a bill last week that would permit lease sales for hundreds of thousands of acres of ANWR’s pristine coastal plain. Under her plan, wells and other above-ground infrastructure could cover about 2,000 acres in the area.

Murkowski said the leases could raise about $1 billion in the course of a decade.

While that’s certainly a vast amount to the average American, the revenue seems paltry when you consider the cost of trampling this crown jewel of unspoiled territory.

Murkowski is also pushing the fallacy that running roads across the wilderness and putting up wells will not harm this remarkably intact habitat for polar bears, caribou, musk oxen, grizzlies and more than 160 migratory and resident bird species.

The ranking Democrat on the Senate committee — Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. — summed it up nicely: “If you want to open up the Arctic Refuge, you should just admit you’re going to destroy the wildlife refuge.”

An amendment introduced by Democrats last month that would have blocked the ANWR plan failed in the Senate, largely along party lines. Manchin, though, showing how he feels about this untouched wilderness, voted with the Republicans, the only Democrat to do so.

The committee meets again on the issue at 9 a.m. today.

Since Manchin often talks about bipartisanship and his frequent forays across party lines, we hope he reads the letter from the ex-Interior officials, which represent Republican and Democratic administrations.

“Those who know this spectacular place, including the Alaskan natives who have lived there for thousands of years, understand [the coastal plain] is the refuge’s biological heart, and among the world’s most important ecological resources,” they wrote.

To those who say this is a matter of national energy independence, the letter-writers say the ANWR plan is “a needless risk.”

“U.S. crude oil production has risen to more than 9.3 million barrels a day, up 850,000 barrels daily since September 2016, pushing oil prices to historical lows and making economic arguments for risking this incredible resource ring hollow.”

In the race to drill, pave, deforest and generally remake the Earth in our own dubious image, ANWR has somehow escaped. But its future always hangs in the balance, perpetually at the whim of whatever group is in power thousands of miles away in Washington.

We know it comes as a shock to some politicians like Murkowski, but there are places in this great land that shouldn’t be sacrificed for $1 billion ... or $100 billion. Leave ANWR alone.