Under pressure from environmentalists, the U.S. president banned oil and gas production in Alaska’s nature reserves.
Oil and gas companies are no longer allowed to drill in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, covering 78,000 square kilometers (approximately 30,115 square miles). This decision is not yet final. Officially, the government has only suspended oil and gas leases and permits until the review on environmental impacts of oil and gas production is completed. It seems that environmentalists should be celebrating the victory, but they are not completely satisfied with this decision and criticize President Joe Biden for other decisions that, from their point of view, threaten nature.
White House National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy said that Biden’s move reflected his belief that “national treasures are cultural and economic cornerstones of our country.” McCarthy added that Biden “is grateful for the prompt action by the Department of the Interior to suspend (at Biden’s instigation) all leasing pending a review of decisions made in the last administration’s final days that could have changed the character of this special place forever.” This is the administration’s position on the issue of mining in the Arctic.
If the Trump administration’s plans about oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is found illegal, the temporary suspension of oil and gas production could lead to the termination of licenses for land development in northeastern Alaska.
As for polar bears, water birds, caribou deer, elks, wolves, wolverines, eagles and other fauna, this outcome would make their lives easier. At the same time, the ban would hit the economy: according to experts, around 11 billion barrels of oil lie under the refuge.
Marcella Burke, an energy policy lawyer who served in the Interior Department during the Trump administration, has pointed out that the battle around the refuge has been going on for more than a decade, and the authoritative position on this subject is generally determined by whichever party is in the White House. “Since the Carter administration, whether ANWR can be leased is determined by which party is in the White House,” Burke told The New York Times. “Developers in ANWR assume there will be a policy shift between Democrat and Republican administrations. But it’s not permanent, assuming there will someday be another party in the White House.”
Biden’s decision to suspend mining in the reserve wasn’t a surprise. While still a candidate, he promised to take care of the environment. Biden signed an executive order to halt new Arctic drilling on inauguration day.
However, the president’s action has sparked the ire of state politicians.
Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy called the move an “assault on Alaska’s economy,” and pledged to “use every means necessary to undo this egregious federal overreach.”
“Alaska does responsible oil and gas development in the Arctic under stricter environmental standards than anywhere else in the world,” Dunleavy said. “Yet the federal government is focused on trying to stop our ability to produce oil and gas. Each action they take demonstrates a failure to comprehend the worldwide demand for oil and gas.”
Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski has even accused the president of breaking the law. According to Murkowski, the initial issuance of permits was provided for by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that was passed by the Republicans back in 2017, and the president does not have the power to overrule it.
Murkowski’s point of view is not without merit. With Trump’s initiative to include the land-leasing program in the bill to change taxation, hitherto inaccessible lands have become open for development since 2017. In accordance with the established regulation, such a project had to be approved by the environmental commission. The final version of the environmental impact statement was released in 2020. Its decision to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling was immediately appealed in the courts. However, Trump, without waiting for the appeal’s outcome, issued an order opening the lands for mining. It was supposed to allow the United States to increase its oil and gas production, as well as replenish the U.S. Treasury with additional funds.
Under pressure from local tribes and environmental activists, exploration in the Arctic has become unpopular. The largest banks have refused to sponsor projects in the protected area. That is why after the auction, the state-owned company received most of the contracts.
Even though environmental activists welcomed Biden’s decision, they considered it halfhearted. “Until these permits are finally revoked, the threat to one of the pristine places in America will remain,” Kristen Miller, acting director of the Alaska Wilderness League, told The New York Times.
Eco-activists are also dissatisfied with Biden’s other decisions. For example, the Biden administration has recently begun to resist attempts to suspend the Dakota Access Pipeline, and has upheld 440 leases issued under Trump for oil and gas production in Wyoming, which is home to sage grouse, mule deer and pronghorn antelope.