Biden administration suspends oil, gas leases in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

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Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Steven Chase/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Getty Images

The Biden administration on Tuesday suspended oil and gas leases in Alaska's 19.6 million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland ordered a new environmental review of the leasing program enacted by the Trump administration.

On Jan. 6, the Bureau of Land Management held a lease sale for the refuge's coastal plain, and about a week later, signed leases for nine tracts totaling almost 685 square miles, The Associated Press reports. On President Biden's first day in office, he signed an executive order placing a temporary moratorium on oil and gas lease activities. Haaland on Tuesday said a review of the Trump administration's leasing program found several issues, including that it lacked "analysis of a reasonable range of alternatives," which is required under the National Environmental Policy Act.

The oil-rich Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is home to polar bears, caribou, snowy owls, and migrating birds, and is sacred to the Gwich'in. In 1995, former President Bill Clinton vetoed a GOP plan to open the refuge to drilling, and since then Democrats and Republicans have battled over the region, AP notes.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) on Tuesday said the Trump administration wanted to "shortcut environmental laws," but that effort "fell apart when exposed to the facts that federal scientists say Arctic Refuge drilling cannot be done safely and oil companies don't want to drill there. Now it is up to Congress to permanently protect this irreplaceable, million-year-old ecosystem and facilitate new economic opportunities based on preserving America's pristine public lands for outdoor recreation."