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Biden axes Alaskan oil and gas leases, despite backing by lawmakers and Native Americans

 September 7, 2023

The Biden administration has revoked multiple oil and gas leases assigned in 2021 to the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA), as Fox News reported.

These leases, encompassing over 365,000 acres within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), had previously been sanctioned by the Trump administration during its final days. This endorsement had a broad spectrum of supporters, notably state legislators and Native Alaskan communities.

Call for Transparency in Decision Reversal

AIDEA's Executive Director, Randy Ruaro, expressed his dismay over the decision: "This latest action by the Department of the Interior against Alaska and Native Alaskans living inside ANWR shows arbitrary disregard for federal law, based on campaign trail rhetoric. Campaign promises are not enough to justify this agency action,"

Ruaro added, "Under the law, Interior must present real facts and reasons that support this reversal in position."

He further emphasized the need for a legal approach, suggesting that the underlying motives behind this reversal need to be unveiled.

Implications for Alaskan Lands and Climate Efforts

Furthering its climate change mitigation goals, the Department of the Interior proposed barring 13 million acres within the National Petroleum Reserve, a designated resource development region in Alaska's North Slope Borough. Additionally, there's a proposal to restrict access to 2.8 million acres in the Beaufort Sea, off Alaska's northern frontier.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland justified these actions, stating, "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."

She recognized the indigenous wisdom of the area's original custodians, stressing the importance of preserving public lands for posterity.

In line with the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the Department was tasked with rolling out an oil and gas initiative in ANWR. This culminated in a leasing program in 2021, in which multiple leases were granted, including seven to AIDEA.

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) voiced the concerns of many Alaskans, condemning what he termed the "palpable anger and frustration among Alaskans about the Biden administration's unrelenting assault on our economy and our ability to lawfully access our lands."

He added, "This war on Alaska is devastating for not only Alaska but also the energy security of the nation."

Legal Tussles and Economic Repercussions

The current administration's stance on energy operations in Alaska may deter potential investors, Sullivan noted. He underlined the importance of abiding by the rule of law and advocated for the rights of the Inupiat people, particularly the residents of Kaktovik -- ANWR's sole village.

In the wake of the anti-drilling stance he took during the 2020 campaign, President Biden halted new oil and gas leases on federal terrain in January 2021. Consequently, the Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program in ANWR was suspended, affecting AIDEA's leases.

As a response, in November 2021, AIDEA, alongside several stakeholders, contested the Department's move in court, maintaining that Congress unmistakably decreed such a program. However, their efforts faced a setback when a judge appointed during the Obama era dismissed their case, prompting strong criticisms from Alaskan political figures and community leaders.

According to AIDEA, the ANWR's non-wilderness section, where the leases reside, holds approximately 7.6 billion barrels of oil and 7 trillion cubic feet of gas. They emphasized the significant economic contributions and employment opportunities that oil and gas ventures offer to Alaska's indigenous and rural sectors.

Furthermore, the state depends heavily on the tax revenues generated from oil and gas activities, which are instrumental in funding critical services, including education, housing, and healthcare.

Conversely, environmental organizations oppose drilling in ANWR, pointing to the potential ecological ramifications and greenhouse gas emissions.