The Biden administration suspended oil and gas drilling leases within Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, effectively reversing the previous administration’s efforts to expand drilling in the region.
The action was reportedly taken Tuesday by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, pending the outcome of a comprehensive environmental impact review.
In declaring the federal government “must advance environmental justice,” Biden signed an executive order his very first day in office directing the Interior Department to review oil and gas activity in the Arctic Refuge.
Covering 19.3 million acres, including about 1.6 million acres of coastal plains, ANWR is seen as being rich in highly pursued oil and gas resources.
Alaska’s Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy denounced the suspension as an “assault” on the state’s economy.
“I oppose this assault on Alaska’s economy and will use every means necessary to undo this egregious federal overreach,” Dunleavy said, according to CBS News. “Shutting down our lands was not what William Seward intended when Alaska was founded and we are not going to allow the Biden administration to turn Alaska into a giant national park.”
White House National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy said the suspension “marks an important step forward fulfilling” the president’s promise to protect the area, Fox News reported.
“President Biden believes America’s national treasures are cultural and economic cornerstones of our country and he is grateful for the prompt action by the Department of the Interior to suspend all leasing pending a review of decisions made in the last administration’s final days that could have changes to the character of this special place forever,” McCarthy added.
In the final days of former President Trump’s term, the Bureau of Land Management approved leases for nine tracts of land within the refuge, with the leases announced on his final day in office.
And with Biden’s signing of the Executive Order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis, which called for the review of all actions taken by the Trump administration, the writing was on the wall as to the longevity of this approval.
“The heads of all agencies shall immediately review all existing regulations, orders, guidance documents, policies, and any other similar agency actions (agency actions) promulgated, issued, or adopted between January 20, 2017, and January 20, 2021, that are or may be inconsistent with, or present obstacles to, the policy set forth in section 1 of this order,” the order declared. “For any such actions identified by the agencies, the heads of agencies shall, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, consider suspending, revising, or rescinding the agency actions.”
Lo and behold, Biden’s Interior Department’s review found “defects” with the leasing program, Fox News reported.
“After conducting the required review, the Department identified defects in the underlying Record of Decision supporting the leases, including the lack of analysis of a reasonable range of alternatives in the EIS conducted under NEPA,” the department said.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., took a victory lap on social media.
“I fought to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and stop the Trump administration’s plan for drilling. I am proud to see the Biden administration reverse this Trump-era plan,” he tweeted. “We must fight to preserve America’s wild places for future generations.”
Biden came under heavy criticism last week for backing a massive ConocoPhillips oil and gas project in Alaska that was approved during Trump’s tenure.
The president has pledged to move away from fossil fuels, but the project is backed by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who is considered a potentially important ally for Biden in getting key legislation through an evenly divided Senate, the New York Times noted.
Murkowski responded to Tuesday’s announcement to say it was “not unexpected but outrageous nonetheless,” CBS News reported.
“This action serves no purpose other than to obstruct Alaska’s economy and put our energy security at great risk,” she said. “Alaskans are committed to developing our resources responsibly and have demonstrated our ability to do so safely to the world.”
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