President Joe Biden took another ax to American energy Wednesday with the cancellation of Trump-era leases for oil and gas development in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
In 2017 through the landmark Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, Congress opened up a 1.6-million-acre patch along Alaska’s north coast for drilling leases. The section amounts to less than 10 percent of the entire refuge, which spans 19.6 million acres in northeast Alaska and is about the size of South Carolina.
“My Administration is canceling all remaining oil and gas leases issued under the last administration in the Arctic Refuge and proposing to protect 13 million acres in the Western Arctic,” Biden wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. “There’s more to do,” he added ominously.
Biden previously paused leases in 2021 while their environmental effects were assessed — months after signing an executive order on his first day in office to halt any new drilling leases on public land. In August, a federal judge upheld the administration’s pause on development in the region over Alaskans’ objections.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland celebrated the cancellation of leases in a Wednesday press release.
“President Biden is delivering on the most ambitious climate and conservation agenda in history,” Haaland said. “The steps we are taking today further that commitment, based on the best available science and in recognition of the Indigenous Knowledge of the original stewards of this area, to safeguard our public lands for future generations.” The indigenous tribe closest to the area in question, however, only turned against drilling after unsuccessfully trying to lease out its own land for oil and gas development.
The U.S. Geological Survey estimates between 4.3 and 11.8 billion barrels of recoverable oil remain underneath the frozen tundra of the north slope’s refuge.
The decision to terminate leases issued under President Donald Trump follows Biden’s order in March to choke off another 16 million acres of Alaskan territory from oil and gas development. Biden has made locking up 30 percent of the nation’s land and waterways by 2030 a top White House priority.
“Once again, the Biden administration has shown it cares nothing about following the law when it comes to its climate crusade,” Rick Whitbeck, the Alaska State Director for Power the Future, told The Federalist. “Canceling fully-executed leases and putting congressionally-authorized development areas off-limits only weakens America’s domestic energy situation. You have to wonder who is pulling the strings: OPEC? Russia? China?”
Biden has routinely turned to Middle Eastern nations to ramp up oil production nearly every time oil prices rise.
Republican Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who’s been repeatedly frustrated by the administration’s antagonism towards development in his state, blasted the latest episode of Washington interference Wednesday.
“Federal agencies don’t get to rewrite laws, and that is exactly what the Department of the Interior is trying to do here,” Dunleavy said. “We will fight for Alaska’s right to develop its own resources and will be turning to the courts to correct the Biden administration’s wrong.”