Biden Yanks Alaska Oil Leases

'We have a responsibility,' president says of Interior Dept. move in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 7, 2023 7:25 AM CDT
Biden Yanks Alaska Oil Leases
In this undated file photo, caribou migrate onto the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska.   (US Fish and Wildlife Service via AP, File)

As then-President Trump's days in the White House came to a close, an Alaskan state development agency was granted a slew of oil and gas leases that ended decades of a drilling moratorium in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This week, President Biden's Department of the Interior nixed the seven leases that remain with the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, reports the Washington Post. "As the climate crisis warms the Arctic more than twice as fast as the rest of the world, we have a responsibility to protect this treasured region for all ages," President Biden said in a Wednesday statement, calling the Last Frontier a state of "breathtaking natural wonders" that needed protection.

In addition to the decision on those 19.6 million acres, home to polar bears and caribou, the Interior Department also noted that leasing would be banned on more than 10 million acres at Alaska's National Petroleum Reserve—"the largest undisturbed public land" in the US, per Reuters. Biden had vowed to undo the Trump-era leases as part of his climate agenda, and after an Interior Department review revealed that the analysis that drove the 2021 lease contracts was "seriously flawed," Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland had what she needed to justify canceling them.

The moves are a now-fulfilled promise that has pleased some environmentalists and local Indigenous groups (but not others), and irked politicians on both sides of the aisle. Chris Wood, head of the conservation group Trout Unlimited, called the decision around the "long game" of conservation "heartening." "It's rare to have these big-stroke opportunities," he tells the Post. However, other environmental groups still angry at Biden's green light earlier this year to allow the Willow drilling project at the petroleum reserve call Wednesday's announcement a "half measure."

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Alaskan lawmakers are also peeved. Democratic US Rep. Mary Peltola said she was "deeply frustrated" by the lease reversals, noting that drilling at the refuge would've brought jobs to Indigenous communities, per the AP. GOP Sen. Dan Sullivan, meanwhile, deemed the decisions a "war on Alaska," while fellow Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski called them "reckless" moves that "defy common sense." The AIDEA says it will mount a legal challenge to the lease cancellations, calling the Biden moves "arbitrary disregard for federal law, based on campaign trail rhetoric." (More Alaska stories.)

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