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Democrats Lock Horns Over Proposal to Protect Wildlife Refuge in Alaska From Drilling

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Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, (r), is telling fellow Democrat Ed Markey of Massachusetts, (l), to stay out of his state's business after Markey introduced a bill to designate the Artic National Wildlife Refuge's coastal plain as wilderness. (AP)

Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska is making an offer to a fellow Democrat, Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts.

"I won't legislate for Massachusetts, and he stays out of Alaska's business," Begich said in a written statement.

Markey just unveiled his latest bill to designate the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge's coastal plain as wilderness -- a move that would put the refuge and its estimated 11 billion barrels of recoverable oil beyond the reach of oil companies.

"This annual piece of legislation to lock up one of America's most promising oil and gas reserves is as predictable as New Year's resolutions," Begich said. "But it has no more merit today than it did the first time it was introduced."

Markey, who believes  the nation should be looking at using safer, cleaner forms of energy, has introduced the bill into every session of Congress since 2001. His persistence has paid off before, when a bill he offered for the better part of a decade to raise fuel economy to cut foreign dependence became law in the 2007 energy bill. But with Republicans now in control of the House, his effort to protect the wildlife refuge essentially amounts to a symbolic gesture.

A spokesman for Markey, who is the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee -- which has jurisdiction over both public lands and energy development on them -- told FoxNews.com that drilling in the refuge is not just an Alaskan issue.

"The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is public land, part of our national natural heritage that all Americans share – belonging as much to the people of Massachusetts as it does to the people of Texas or California or Alaska," Markey spokesman Eben Burnham-Snyder said in an e-mail.

The intraparty spat comes as motorists are besieged by rising oil prices. Oil prices rose 22 percent from Labor Day through the end of the year. The national average price for gas is about $3.08 per gallon, the highest since January 2008 when the price was around $3.11 a gallon. Oil prices fell below $88 Friday, but analysts expect price of a barrel to surpass $100 this year. And gas prices generally rise between the start of the year and Memorial Day.

Begich says Congress specifically set aside 1.5 million acres along the coastal plain for oil and gas exploration. He says the area has enormous potential and should be part of the nation's energy plan.

"I agree that we need to do more to develop alternative energy forms as part of our national plan, but to put ANWR off limits is shortsighted," he said. "ANWR will not be locked up."