Interior Department cancels Trump-era Arctic drilling leases
Environmental groups praised the department’s decision and other efforts to restrict drilling in the Arctic.
The Department of Interior announced on Wednesday that Trump-era leases to drill oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska would be canceled, following the suspension of those leases in June 2021.
The department also announced that it would introduce new prohibitions on future oil and gas leasing on 13 million acres within the 23-million-acre National Petroleum Reserve.
“With climate change warming the Arctic more than twice as fast as the rest of the planet, we must do everything within our control to meet the highest standards of care to protect this fragile ecosystem,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement.
Protection of the wildlife refuge has long been a priority of environmental and nature preservation groups. Several animal species rely on the region for their food and habitats, including the polar bear, which is considered a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act.
“By protecting these landscapes and canceling these leases, the White House has made it clear they will take bold action to avert climate catastrophe,” Ben Jealous, executive director of the Sierra Club, said in a release. “Today, in listening to the Gwich’in Nation and the American people, President Biden showed that this treasured landscape is also the frontline of climate action.”
Manish Bapna, president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a release, “The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is the nation’s largest wildlife refuge. It’s no place for oil and gas drilling and all the damage and danger it brings.”
The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which was passed by a Republican-led Congress and signed into law by Trump, opened the refuge to drilling after years of debate between lawmakers. In December 2020, following Trump’s unsuccessful bid for a second term, his administration announced that drilling rights would be auctioned. Those leases were sold on Jan. 6, 2021 — the same day as the attack on the U.S. Capitol.
During his presidential campaign, Biden said that he was “completely, totally opposed” to drilling in the refuge and began the process of reversing the Trump administration’s actions after taking office.
The Biden administration also restored federal rules requiring climate impact studies for construction projects, which had been abandoned under Trump. Similarly, Biden has expanded federal protections to millions of acres of old-growth forests that the Trump administration had designated for logging and mining.
“Canceling all remaining oil and gas leases issued under the previous administration in the Arctic Refuge and protecting more than 13 million acres in the Western Arctic will help preserve our Arctic lands and wildlife, while honoring the culture, history, and enduring wisdom of Alaska Natives who have lived on these lands since time immemorial,” Biden said in a statement.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.
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