The Biden administration announced on Wednesday that it would cancel seven oil and gas leases in Alaska that were issued during the Trump administration.
The leases canceled by the Department of the Interior cover 365,000 acres in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A).
The NPR-A is a 23 million-acre area on the state’s North Slope. It is the largest undisturbed public land in the United States. The department will ban new leases on more than 40 percent of the reserve.
The leases were suspended in June 2021 following Secretary Deb Haaland’s Order 3401 (pdf) due to “multiple legal deficiencies in the underlying record supporting the leases.”
The department also proposed new regulations (pdf) for the NPR-A that would “ensure maximum protection” for the “Special Areas in the reserve, while supporting subsistence activities for Alaska Native communities.”
These actions, which the Biden administration said are aimed at safeguarding Alaska’s pristine Arctic region, are part of President Joe Biden’s broader conservation and climate agenda.
“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 statement.
“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.”
The department said the decision to cancel these leases was based on a comprehensive analysis conducted by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), which highlighted several fundamental legal deficiencies.
In a statement, the department said a draft environmental impact review released on Wednesday by the BLM had determined that the analysis that underlined the agency’s 2021 lease sale was “seriously flawed,” giving Ms. Haaland authority to cancel the leases.
This was “based on a number of fundamental legal deficiencies, including: insufficient analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act, including failure to adequately analyze a reasonable range of alternatives and properly quantify downstream greenhouse gas emissions; and failure to properly interpret the Tax Act.”
“President Biden is delivering on the most ambitious climate and conservation agenda in history,” Ms. Haaland said in a statement. “The steps we are taking today further that commitment, based on the best available science and in recognition of the Indigenous Knowledge of the original stewards of this area, to safeguard our public lands for future generations.”
Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) criticized the move, calling it “unlawful” and “devastating” for the state.
“This war on Alaska is devastating for not only Alaska but also the energy security of the nation,” he said on X, formerly known as Twitter. “This unlawful cancellation of leases brings us to 55 executive orders and actions specifically targeting Alaska since President Biden assumed office.”
“This is a grave injustice to the Inupiat people of the North Slope, especially in Kaktovik—the only village in ANWR,” he continued. “As evidenced by this and so many of the admin’s actions, the idea of ‘equity’ is being exploited as a hollow political soundbite.”
The Epoch Times contacted the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope for comment.
The Trump administration issued seven leases to the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) one day before President Biden’s inauguration. President Biden had pledged to protect the 19.6 million-acre (7.7 million hectares) habitat for polar bears and caribou.
A 2017 tax legislation, which was approved by Republican lawmakers, initiated oil and gas leasing in the region and mandated that the Department of the Interior conduct two lease sales by December 2024.
The Biden administration announced the suspension of the leases several months after the first and only lease sale in the Arctic Refuge. Following this, AIDEA filed a lawsuit contesting the decision. But last month, a federal judge in Alaska dismissed their claims, ruling that the government’s delay in implementing the Arctic Refuge leasing program was reasonable.
Indigenous Alaskans and environmentalists welcomed the announcement, while a Republican senator from Alaska criticized the move.
Reuters contributed to this report.