The Biden administration on Tuesday took a major step toward highlighting one of its predecessor’s most significant policy successes, sought by Republicans for four decades and achieved only in the final moments of the Donald Trump presidency.
On Trump’s last full day in office, the US Department of the Interior issued nine leases that gave three companies the right to drill for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a 19.3-million-acre wild expanse that is home to migratory birds. acts as a victim. Every state and six continents. The leased tracts span 1.6 million acres of coastal plain between the Brooks Range and the Beaufort Sea, which provides habitat for the endangered polar bear and calf grounds for the porcupine caribou herd. Indigenous guachins, who depend on herds for their sustenance and traditions, call the Coastal Plain holy place where life begins.
But on Tuesday, Interior announced it was suspending those leases and all oil and gas activity in the refuge until it is completed.A Comprehensive Environmental Analysis” of the Lease Program. Interior will use that analysis to determine whether it should reinstate the leases, add new terms, or cancel them altogether.
New environmental analysis needed because the first one was struck down by the Trump administration over “legal loopholes” a secretarial order Released Tuesday by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. That assessment echoed environmental groups including Audubon, which sued internally last summer for what they described as a deeply flawed process that led to the decision to allow the asylum to lease. The Trump administration underestimated the environmental impacts of its leasing plan, they argued, even acknowledging that implementing the plan could cause of bird extinction.
Haaland’s order said the Trump administration failed to seriously consider options for its lease program and misinterpreted the 2017 tax law that Republicans in Congress used to advance the program. (An internal spokesperson did not respond to requests for clarification about the nature of that misinterpretation.) Haaland gave agency leaders 60 days to publish a formal notice of intent to begin a new analysis.
The move was not unexpected—President Joe Biden temporary stay ordered Energy development at the asylum on his first day in office – but nonetheless is a significant blow to efforts, long backed by Alaska’s political leaders, to drill there.
The head of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority — a state economic development corporation that holds seven leases in the refuge — disputed internal claims that the leasing program was flawed. “The Department of the Interior has not yet provided AIDEA with documentation of any deficiencies that would warrant the suspension of the leases,” group executive director Alan Weitzner said in a press release. “We are extremely disappointed in the Biden administration’s effort to prevent Alaska from developing its natural resources legally and responsibly, as agreed and provided for under ANILCA” – a federal law that has allowed most refuges to become wildernesses. Designated as but authorized oil and gas exploration onshore grounds.
AIDEA did not say whether it would contest the decision in court. Neither did the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, which similarly said it was “disappointed” at the lease’s suspension. “No one is better equipped to drill safely in the Alaskan Arctic than Alaskans,” Patrick Burgut, the group’s manager of regulatory and legal affairs, said in an email. “We hope the Biden administration will recognize this fact and allow Alaska to have its way.”
Environmental groups praised Tuesday’s decision, also emphasizing that the refuge remains at risk from development unless Congress changes the tax law that requires lease sales. Kristen Miller, acting executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, said in a statement: “Suspending these leases is a step in the right direction and we commend the Biden administration for a new program analysis that prioritizes sound science and adequate tribal counseling.” gives.” . However, Miller said: “Unless the leases are revoked, they will continue to threaten one of the wildest places left in America. We now have the administration and Congress legislatively repeal the mandate to lease oil. and to prioritize restoring security to the Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain.
Green groups also argued that Republicans in Congress misled the public when they inserted a provision in the 2017 tax bill that required two lease sales at the asylum by 2024. At the time, Alaska’s congressional delegation estimated an estimated $900 million decline from the lease over a decade. . Sale in January – First time at Asylum – Brought in less than 1 percent Of that revenue, only $14.4 million is to be shared equally by the state and federal governments. “Congress opened asylum to drilling over false claims of big money and jobs,” Kristen Monsell, senior counsel for the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “It has to fix things, end its leasing mandate, and kill these leases outright.”
Tuesday’s press statements issued by similar groups last week on a separate fossil fuel development on Alaska’s North Slope were very different. Justice Department on May 26 filed a legal brief Defending a huge ConocoPhillips oil project that was approved by the Trump administration and sued last year by environmental groups to stop it. When fully developed, the Willow Project could pump up to 100,000 barrels of oil per day from the National Petroleum Reserve—Alaska—another vast tract of federal land in the state’s far north that is home to geese, shorebirds, caribou and other wildlife. Necessary accommodations are included. Burgut’s group responded with that news. Appreciation for Biden and internal leaders, while environmental groups destroyed Administration to reduce its own goals in fighting climate change.
The contrast shows that, with only a slim Democratic majority in Congress, the Biden administration will have to walk a fine line in implementing policies that include a campaign promise To ban federal oil and gas leasing—as important steps to eliminate economy-wide carbon emissions by 2050. Suspending a handful of leases is not enough to rein in climate change, the biggest threat to birds. But these represent the special leases that the country has come to develop into one of its wildest, most bird-rich places, and now, perhaps the closest it will be.
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