The Biden administration suspended oil and gas leases at the Alaska Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on Tuesday, reversing a drilling program approved by Donald Trump and reviving a political fight over a remote region that is home to polar bears and other animals. savages, and a rich reserve of oil. .
The interior department’s order follows a temporary moratorium on oil and gas leasing activities imposed by Joe Biden on his first day in office. Biden’s Jan.20 executive order suggested a new environmental review was needed to address potential legal flaws in a drilling program approved by the Trump administration under a 2017 law enacted by Congress.
After conducting a required review, Interior said it “identified flaws in the underlying record of decisions supporting leases, including the lack of analysis of a reasonable range of alternatives” required by the National Environmental Policy Act, a fundamental environmental law.
The 19.6m-acre remote refuge is home to polar bears, caribou, snowy owls and other wildlife, including migratory birds from six continents. Republicans and the oil industry have long been trying to open the oil-rich haven, which the indigenous Gwich’in communities hold sacred, for drilling. Democrats, environmental groups, and some Alaska Native tribes have been trying to block it.
Bill Clinton vetoed a Republican plan to allow drilling at the shelter in 1995, when he was president, and the two sides have been fighting over the region ever since.
The U.S. land management office, an agency of the Department of the Interior, held a lease sale for the refuge’s coastal plain on January 6, two weeks before Biden took office.
Eight days later, the agency signed leases for nine lots totaling nearly 685 square miles. However, the issuance of the leases was not publicly announced until January 19, the last full day in office for former President Donald Trump.
Biden has opposed drilling in the region, and environmental groups have been pushing for permanent protections, which Biden demanded during the 2020 presidential campaign.
The administration’s action to suspend the leases comes after officials disappointed environmental groups last week by defending a decision by the Trump administration to approve a major oil project on Alaska’s northern slope. Critics say the action goes against Biden’s promises to tackle climate change.
The Justice Department said in a court docket that opponents of the Willow project in the Alaska National Petroleum Reserve sought to halt development by “carefully selecting” records from federal agencies to claim violations of the environmental review law. The presentation defends the revisions that underpin last fall’s decision approving the project plans.
Kristen Miller, acting executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, praised the suspension of the Arctic lease program, which she said was the result of flawed legal process under Trump.
“Suspending these leases is a step in the right direction, and we commend the Biden administration for committing to a new program analysis that prioritizes sound science and proper tribal consultation,” he said.
More action is needed, Miller said, calling for a permanent cancellation of leases and the repeal of the 2017 law that mandates drilling in the refuge’s coastal plain.
The drilling mandate was included in a massive tax cut approved by Congressional Republicans during Trump’s first year in office. Republicans said it could bring in an estimated $ 1 billion in 10 years, a figure Democrats consider ridiculously exaggerated.
Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Nation steering committee, thanked President and Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and said tribal leaders are encouraged by the “commitment of the Biden administration to protect the sacred lands and way of life. Gwich’in “.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism