Drilling leases in ANWR will be canceled

Haaland: ‘There are some places where oil and gas drilling and industrial development simply do not belong’

President Joe Biden’s administration on Wednesday announced plans to cancel oil and gas leases in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), in an effort to protect the Arctic environment.

“Public lands belong to all Americans, and there are some places where oil and gas drilling and industrial development simply do not belong,” said Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.

Under former President Donald Trump’s administration, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) had let oil and gas leases on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) coastal plain covering some 365,000 acres.

Interior Department officials are also proposing federal protections for some 13 million acres of land in the NPR-A — which aim to limit future oil and gas development there and to implement environmental protections announced in March, alongside the controversial Willow oil project. The Interior Department said in a statement that the proposed rule would prohibit new oil and gas leasing in 106 million acres, which is over 40% of the NPR-A. That acreage includes areas used by migrating caribou and birds, as well as grizzly and polar bears. The acreage includes the Colville River, Kasegaluk Lagoon, Peard Bay, Teshekpuk Lake and the Utukok Uplands.

“Alaska is ground zero for climate change,” said White House Senior Adviser John Podesta during a news conference with Haaland. “The Arctic is warming more than twice as fast as the rest of the planet. Today’s actions help protect their future, America’s future, and they build on President Biden’s historic climate and conservation record.”

The administration’s approval of ConocoPhillips’ Willow oil project in northern Alaska is still moving forward.

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The announcement of leases being canceled in the ANWR drew quick criticism from Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who said the state will fight for the right to develop its own resources and turn to the courts “to correct the Biden Administration’s wrong.”

Dunleavy said the leases in the ANWR were legally issued in a sale under the Trump administration. “It’s clear that President Biden needs a refresher on the constitution’s separation of powers doctrine,” said Dunleavy, who has endorsed former president Donald Trump for the 2024 presidential election.

“Federal agencies don’t get to rewrite laws, and that is exactly what the Department of the Interior is trying to do here.” He also noted that those leases “were issued properly as mandated by Congress in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.”

Nagruk Harcharek, president of the Voice of Arctic Inupiat, said the Biden administration’s decision to rescind leases in the ANWR “flies in the face of our region’s wishes and self-determination.”

“As stated by the 2023 Arctic Peoples Conference, ‘Climate change cannot be an excuse to infringe on our distinct rights as Indigenous Peoples,’” Harcharek said. “Today’s decision again shows that the administration prioritizes their agenda over the will of local Indigenous communities.”

Environmental entities, meanwhile, offered kudos for the cancellation of the leases.

“We commend Secretary Haaland for canceling unlawfully issued oil and gas leases in the Arctic Refuge,” Abigail Dillen, president of Earthjustice, said in a statement. “Looking ahead, we hope to see the strongest possible protections for the Arctic Refuge and the Western Arctic in the years to come.”

The Wilderness Society also called the moves “an extraordinary trio of announcements” Wednesday. 

“It is nearly impossible to overstate the importance of today’s announcements for Arctic conservation,” said Jamie Williams, president of the Wilderness Society. “The positive announcements on the Arctic Refuge and the Western Arctic are huge steps by the Biden administration to protect vast, beautiful landscapes for future generations. Our climate is a bit safer and there is renewed hope for permanently protecting one of the last great wild landscapes in America.” 

Two Tribal entities also extended kudos on the Biden administration decision.

“The Arctic Village and Venetie Tribal governments want to extend deep gratitude to the Department of Interior for making the just decision to cancel all Arctic Refuge leases,” the two entities said in a statement. “This is a significant step towards true, meaningful protection of these lands that are so vital to the survival of our people now and into the future.”

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