Biden to suspend Trump’s eleventh-hour oil leases in Arctic
The Biden administration will suspend Arctic refuge drilling rights sold in the final days of Donald Trump’s presidency, a move that buys time for further environmental analysis, according to a person familiar with the decision.
The Interior Department decision will temporarily halt action on 11 leases spanning about 553,000 acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, said the person, who asked not to be named before a formal announcement. Politico reported the development earlier.
Spokespeople for the Interior Department and its Bureau of Land Management did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment.
The department’s Bureau of Land Management is set to conduct fresh environmental analysis of the Jan. 6 sale of oil leases in the refuge. Just two oil companies and an Alaska economic development corporation bought the right to explore for oil and gas on tracts in the refuge’s coastal plain during that January auction.
The Trump administration pushed through oil leases on land protected by presidents back to Eisenhower. No major oil companies offered bids.
But environmentalists have raised questions about whether the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority was legally qualified to participate. Although the state-owned company has financed small oil projects in Alaska, it has never sought to acquire its own drilling rights, and BLM has previously disqualified bids by entities with no intent to develop their leases.
Environmentalists and native Alaskans also have gone to court to challenge the scale of the underlying auction, arguing that industrial oil development would threaten one of America’s last truly wild places as well as the calving caribou, migratory birds and Arctic foxes that rely on it.
The Biden administration’s planned suspension falls short of some advocates’ push for the entire lease sale to be invalidated.
On the campaign trail, President Biden vowed to permanently protect the refuge. But his administration has defended a separate Trump-era decision to green-light a massive ConocoPhillips Alaska Inc. oil development in the National Petroleum Reserve — a top priority for the state’s Republican congressional delegation, including senior Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
Congress has mandated two coastal plain oil auctions by Dec. 22, 2024, as a way to pay for the 2017 tax cuts.
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