Several Republican officials in Alaska, including Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy, called out President Joe Biden this week for his decision to freeze drilling in an oil preserve in the Arctic amid a Trump administration reversal.
While the leases were issued in relation to the 2017 Tax Cuts and Job Act signed by President Donald Trump, Biden took action against oil development in the federally designated oil preserve 1002 Area in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement that the government will now “determine whether the leases should be reaffirmed, voided, or subject to additional mitigation measures.”
“The Biden Administration’s suspension of leases in the ANWR 1002 Area is contrary to federal law,” Dunleavy said. “Section 20001 of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (2017) clearly says ‘The Secretary shall establish and administer a competitive oil and gas program for the leasing, development, production and transportation of oil and gas in and from the Coastal Plain.’ Neither the President nor the Secretary are given the discretion to decide otherwise. Our leases for oil and gas are valid and cannot be taken away by the federal government. I oppose this assault on Alaska’s economy and will 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.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the Alaska Republican who authored Trump’s 2017 opening on the approximately 1.6 million-acre-long area in the northern part of the state, said in a statement that “The Biden administration’s actions are not unexpected but are outrageous nonetheless.”
“Suspending leases in Alaska’s 1002 Area is in direct conflict with the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, through which Congress mandates an oil and gas leasing program be established on the non-wilderness Coastal Plain, and ordered at least two lease sales by 2024,” Murkowski said.
Alan Weitzner, head of Alaska’s Industrial Development and Export Authority, said his group is “very disappointed with this decision.” The Anchorage Daily News asked Weitzner if the group will file a lawsuit against the Biden administration, to which he indicated it would not be ruled out.
The refuge is located where Alaska native tribes live. The Kaktovik village has continually supported oil development in the region, and in 2017, a tribal leader urged Congress in a committee hearing to open it up for business.
“DOI’s announcement suspending leases in the 1002 Area goes against the law, facts, the science, and the will of the Native communities on the North Slope. It is nothing more than a naked political move by the Biden administration to pay off its extreme environmental allies,” said Sen. Dan Sullivan, another Alaska Republican.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the coastal plain accounts for 8 percent of the 19-million-acre refuge and could hold close to 8 billion barrels of oil. The Interior Department’s move comes on the heels of the Biden White House approving drilling in the Willow prospect located in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.
The Biden administration’s move comes as gas prices around the country are soaring, more than 60 cents more per gallon than in January, and after a Russian cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline left many Americans on the East Coast without access to gasoline. Biden canceled the Keystone XL Pipeline in March, an oil system that runs from Alberta to several locations in the United States. The cancelation cost more than 25,000 jobs, and it remains to be seen how many will be lost in the current effort to impede on Alaskan drilling.