President Joe Biden suspends oil concessions in Alaska’s Arctic refuge
The Biden administration canceled a Donald Trump-era drilling program by suspending oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Home Secretary Deb Haaland’s order follows a temporary moratorium on oil and gas leasing activities imposed by President Joe Biden on his first day in office.
Mr Biden’s Jan. 20 executive order suggested that a new environmental review was needed to address possible legal loopholes in a drilling program approved by the Trump administration under a 2017 law enacted by Congress.
After conducting the required review, the US Department of the Interior said it had “identified flaws in the underlying record of the decision supporting the leases, including the lack of analysis of a range reasonable alternatives “required under the National Environmental Policy Act, law.
The isolated 19.6 million acre 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 tried to open the oil-rich refuge, which is considered sacred by Gwich’in natives, for drilling.
Democrats, environmental groups and some Native Alaskan tribes have tried to block it.
Environmental groups and Democrats applauded the Home Department’s order, while Alaska’s all-Republican delegation to Congress called it misguided and illegal.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, an interior agency, held a lease sale for the refuge’s coastal plain on January 6, two weeks before Mr. Biden took office.
Eight days later, the agency signed leases for nine plots totaling nearly 685 square miles. However, the issuance of the leases was not announced publicly until January 19, the last full day of former President Donald Trump’s tenure.
Mr Biden has opposed drilling in the region and environmental groups have pushed for permanent protections, which Mr Biden has called for during the presidential campaign.
The administration’s decision to suspend leases comes after officials disappointed environmental groups last week by defending a Trump administration decision to approve a major oil project on the North Slope of Alaska.
Critics say the action goes against Mr Biden’s promises to tackle climate change.
The Justice Department said in a court filing that opponents of Project Willow in the Alaska National Oil Reserve seek to stop development by “picking” federal agency files to claim violations of the review law. environmental.
The record defends the reviews that underpin last fall’s decision to approve the project plans.
Kristen Miller, acting executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, hailed the suspension of the Arctic rental program, which she said was the result of a flawed legal process under Mr Trump.
She said: “The suspension of these leases is a step in the right direction, and we applaud the Biden administration for embarking on a new program analysis that prioritizes solid science and adequate tribal consultation. . “
Ms Miller added that further action was needed as she called for the permanent cancellation of leases and the repeal of the 2017 law mandating drilling in the coastal plain of the refuge.
The drill mandate was included in a massive tax cut approved by Congressional Republicans during Mr. Trump’s first year in office.
In a joint statement, Alaska Senators Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski, along with Representative Don Young and Governor Mike Dunleavy, criticized the Home Office’s action. All four are Republicans.
Mr Dunleavy said the leases sold in January “are valid and cannot be withdrawn by the federal government”.
Mr Sullivan, who praised Mr Biden last week for supporting the Willow oil project, said that the suspension of arctic leases “is against the law, the facts, the science and the the will of the indigenous communities of the north slope.
“This is nothing more than a naked political maneuver by the Biden administration to repay its extreme environmental allies.”