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Smithsonian Defends Move on ANWR Photos

NPR's David Welna reports on a congressional oversight hearing held today in which Smithsonian officials defended their decision to move an exhibit of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge photographs from a prominent exhibit space to a more out-of-the-way location in the building.

Museum officials say the captions of the photos by Subhankar Banerjee included statements advocating the protection of the refuge, which they found unacceptable because the issue is so politically charged. Democrats have said the Smithsonian was pressured to change the exhibit by those who support drilling for oil in the Arctic region.

Congress has argued for nearly two decades about whether or not America's energy needs justify opening the 1.5-million acre coastal plain of the refuge, which is the calving ground for a migratory herd of more than 100,000 caribou.

The 19-million-acre chunk of tundra known as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is tucked into the northeast corner of Alaska. ANWR's rugged landscape offers essential habitat for the polar bear, the Porcupine caribou herd and hundreds more species of animals and plants.

Beneath the permafrost, petroleum deposits fuel a political debate revived by the White House and stoked by the events of Sept. 11. At the center of the debate is an area that makes up nearly 10 percent of the refuge.

No one knows how much oil may lie beneath the refuge's tundra. Drilling proponents cite ANWR as an important new source of domestic oil, saying recovering the deposits found there could help the U.S. reduce dependence on imports.

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