Former President Donald Trump’s last-minute rush to lease out parcels of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge–which saw no major oil developers make a bid–is coming back to bite them.
Today, Politico reported the Biden administration is suspending all oil and gas leases in the refuge “pending a deeper look at the environmental impacts of drilling in the sensitive region.” The leasing activities were initially paused by the Biden administration on Jan. 20 to review “alleged legal deficiencies” by the Trump administration.
The Trump administration held the first-ever lease sale for ANWR on Jan. 6, just weeks before leaving office. It was largely considered a flop with the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, a state-owned investment corporation, being the main buyer of leases. The Politico report notes that the environmental review was completed in less than two years and charges that the Trump administration rushed other parts of the sale. From the report:
“According to FOIA documents obtained by POLITICO, the DOJ’s required antitrust review of the leases was completed in a single day, dramatically hastening a process that normally takes anywhere from six weeks to several months. On Jan. 8, in a letter signed by acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, the department concluded that the sale complied with the antitrust laws.”
With the rushed actions of the Trump administration, the Biden administration could order a new environmental analysis of the oil and gas leasing in ANWR that could result in additional environmental restrictions or nullify the leases altogether. The sale of oil and gas leases in ANWR, however, is currently required under Trump’s 2017 tax cuts legislation with language added by Alaska U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
The news was quickly hailed by Gwich’in Steering Committee, an organization of Gwich’in villages in Alaska and Canada that’s primarily focused on protecting ANWR and its caribou herds.
“The Gwich’in Nation is grateful and heartened by the news that the Biden administration has acted again on its commitment to protecting sacred lands and the Gwich’in way of life,” said Bernadette Demientieff, the group’s executive director, in a prepared statement. “After fighting so hard to protect these lands and the Porcupine caribou herd, trusting the guidance of our ancestors and elders, and the allyship of people around the world, we can now look for further action by the administration and to Congress to repeal the leasing program. Mashi’ choo, President Biden and Secretary Haaland, for hearing our voices and standing up for our human rights and identity. There is so much more to do to protect these lands for future generations, and today’s action is a step in that direction.”
Today’s action follows what was largely a good week for Alaska oil development. Much to the chagrin of environmental groups, the Biden administration sided with the ConocoPhillips’ Willow project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska after concerted lobbying efforts from Alaska’s congressional delegation.