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Biden to Block Oil Drilling on Millions of Acres of Arctic Alaska

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President Biden on Wednesday moved to protect more than 10 million acres of Alaska’s North Slope from development by revoking leases on the iconic Arctic National Wildlife Refuge awarded under President Donald Trump, banning oil drilling on the giant lands.

The conservation drive covers nearly half of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), the nation’s largest public land that provides habitat for sensitive arctic wildlife, including caribou and shorebirds. That would put a permanent ban on oil and gas development on the 10.6 million acres, but won’t stop ConocoPhillips’ Willow project, which Biden approved earlier this year is poised to produce 576 million barrels of oil over the next three decades.

In a separate move, Interior Secretary Deb Holland is canceling all seven outstanding leases the Trump administration had awarded for oil exploration in the state’s northeastern corner of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Until Congress ordered the sale of the lease in 2017, drilling was prohibited in the refuge, one of the nation’s most scenic areas, for decades. As a candidate, Biden promised. to cancel those leases As part of his broader climate agenda.

In a statement, Biden said the state is full of “breathtaking natural wonders” that need protection.

“With the climate crisis warming the Arctic twice as fast as the rest of the world, we have a responsibility to protect this treasured region for people of all ages,” Biden said.

Chris Wood, president of conservation group Trout Unlimited, said the measures would do nothing to stop willow growth — a key target of climate activists — and ensure long-term protection for areas that provide vital wildlife habitat. He estimated that since the early 2000s, the central government has not set aside many acres of land for conservation.

“Conservation is a very long game and will take decades,” Wood said. “These big stroke opportunities are rare. So it’s great and heartening to see the administration taking a bit of a bolder line to protect our lands and waters.

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However, these measures have not received universal support from environmentalists. Biden has had trouble appeasing climate activists, especially anti-oil activists upset by his administration’s outright endorsement of Willow.

Friends of the Earth late Wednesday called the new announcements “half-measures.” “The small steps proposed by the Department of the Interior will not erase President Biden’s incredibly disappointing climate record on oil and gas leasing,” Reyna Garcia, the group’s senior public lands and fossil fuel campaigner, said in a statement. “If the administration was truly committed to protecting our people and the planet, they would completely stop climate-destroying projects like Willow.”

Drilling in Alaska has complicated Biden’s efforts to implement aggressive measures to combat climate change. Oil advocates and industry analysts have said parts of NPR-A are among the richest oil reserves in the country, and Alaskan lawmakers have pushed development as a major source of jobs and revenue. But Biden took office and said, “No more drilling on federal lands, period. Time, time, time.”

Kara Moriarty, president of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, said in an email that Biden’s new policies would make the U.S. more reliant on foreign oil, which could generate more planet-warming emissions than oil extracted in Alaska.

“The constant barrage of government regulatory changes and whiplash is telling investors that Alaska is not the place to do business,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense because Alaska has the highest environmental standards and the lowest emissions in the country.”

In March, Biden endorsed Willow under intense political pressure He was forced to because the company had a legal lease for the area prior to his presidency.

But he announced that decision with a plan to provide “maximum protection” approved by Congress, and for the remaining 13 million acres. Wednesday’s move makes that plan an official proposal, including environmental mitigation requirements on 2.4 million acres where oil leasing can still take place and a ban on oil and gas leasing for the rest.

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The proposal calls for reviews and public consultation every five years on whether to expand or designate new special areas for conservation in the reserve. The Interior’s Bureau of Land Management will hold public meetings on the proposal and take public comments for 60 days before making a final rule.

“We know that some of these places are irreplaceable treasures,” Hollande told reporters. “Climate change is the crisis of our lifetime. … We must do everything in our control to maintain and protect this fragile ecosystem.

Regarding the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Holland said the lease sale under Trump was flawed “based on a number of fundamental, legal flaws.” Administration officials said the Bureau of Land Management under Biden and the Fish and Wildlife Service produced a new analysis to support that decision.

Administration officials said Trump officials failed to meet requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act to analyze alternatives or measure greenhouse gas emissions from the development. That led Holland to cancel the lease, administration officials said.

The tenant, Alaska’s publicly owned development corporation, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, said the decision was illegal. They said that they will fight in the court demanding the issuance of the license.

“This latest action by the Department of the Interior shows a wanton disregard for federal law based on campaign rhetoric,” the organization said in a statement. “Campaign promises are not enough to justify this agency action.”

Sen. Several influential Alaska lawmakers, including Lisa Murkowski (R), have fought for decades to open up part of the region’s coastal plain to drilling, and inserted requirements to lease oil rights in the area as part of an overhaul of the 2017 tax law. Local officials who support drilling have tried to overturn federal violations of Biden’s leases.

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“These decisions are illegal, irresponsible, defy all common sense, and are the latest signs of President Biden’s inappropriate energy policy,” Murkowski said in a statement Wednesday.

At the same time, oil companies have also lost interest in the refuge in recent years and are increasingly interested in NPR-A. Regenerate Alaska, a unit of an Australian company, is the only oil company to directly own a portion of the refuge’s nearly 1.6 million acres of coastal plain, and it voluntarily canceled its lease in 2022 after two major oil companies, Chevron and Hilcorp. , had also rejected their claims.

NPR-A, roughly the size of Indiana, was officially designated for oil and gas development in 1976 by the Naval Petroleum Reserve Production Act. The Act made special provisions for oil and gas extraction and set aside certain areas for “maximum protection”. environment.

Today, the region is a significant reserve for domestic oil supplies, but is increasingly valued as Arctic wilderness, providing important habitat for polar bears, migratory caribou and waterfowl.

Climate activists and many environmentalists were dismayed on March 13. when The Biden administration approved the Willow project, which federal officials say could produce 576 million barrels of oil over 30 years.

ConocoPhillips has held leases to produce oil as part of the Willow project since the late 1990s. After nearly five years of permitting and legal battles, the Biden administration approved the plan Three drilling platforms with a total of 199 wells. It shrunk the plan from five pads originally proposed by ConocoPhillips, following recommendations from a government review to block development from yellow-billed loon nesting sites and caribou migration routes.

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