President Biden was heavily criticized by Republicans and Democrats alike for his administration’s actions Wednesday, significantly curbing fossil fuel drilling in an oil-rich region of Alaska.
As part of the actions, the Department of the Interior (DOI) proposed regulations to “ensure maximum protection” for 13 million acres of land across the National Petroleum Reserve (NPR), an area in North Slope Borough, Alaska. Biden further ordered an additional 2.8 million of acres to be withdrawn from oil and gas leasing in the Beaufort Sea off the northern coast of Alaska.
Additionally, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland authorized the cancelation of seven leases issued in 2021 to the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA), a state agency. Those leases were purchased in January 2021 and span 365,775 acres across non-wilderness areas of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
“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,” Haaland said.
Biden added in a social media post that he was “taking action to meet the moment for future generations.”
However, the president was blasted for the move, which opponents said would harm U.S. energy security, inadvertently reward foreign energy producers and contravene congressional intent of past legislation.
“I can’t explain to the American people why we would willingly become more dependent on foreign oil imports, eliminate good paying American jobs and drive up the cost of our electric bills and gas prices across the country,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said. “This is yet another example of this administration caving to the radical left with no regard for clear direction from Congress or American energy security.”
“Let’s be clear — this is another attempt to use executive action to circumvent a law to accomplish what this administration does not have the votes to achieve in Congress,” he added. “Canceling valid leases, removing acreage from future sales, and attempting to reduce production in Alaska while taking steps to allow Iran and Venezuela to produce more oil — with fewer environmental regulations — makes no sense and is frankly embarrassing.”
Under the administration’s actions curbing development in the NPR, future oil and gas leasing and industrial development would be strictly limited in the Teshekpuk Lake, Utukok Uplands, Colville River, Kasegaluk Lagoon and Peard Bay “special areas” known for their rich wildlife populations. The rule would create an outright prohibition on any new leasing across 10.6 million acres.
The regulations further mean that the entire section of the Arctic Ocean owned by the federal government is blocked from any fossil fuel production in the foreseeable future. However, an offshore lease sale has not been held in the region since 2007, and the administration had already ruled out future auctions through at least 2028.
“President Biden’s war on American energy continues,” Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said in a statement. “He is ignoring the law and making us more dependent on foreign oil. Not only is this bad energy policy, it’s bad foreign policy. Today’s decision rewards our adversaries and hurts American families.”
“Once again, President Biden is stifling domestic energy production in pursuit of his radical green agenda. His cancellation of leases and complete disregard for the law pushes us even further away from energy independence,” Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, added.
Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., said the moves were the latest example of Biden’s “war on American energy in order to pursue its green hallucination.” He said it was an affront to both the law and Native American communities that would benefit from development in the region.
Under the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the DOI was ordered to establish and administer an oil and gas program in ANWR. Then, years after the bill was passed, the Bureau of Land Management unveiled the final leasing program and ultimately held its lease sale for hundreds of thousands of acres of fossil fuel leases in ANWR in January 2021.
One day before President Biden’s inauguration, the DOI awarded nine leases, seven of which were given to AIDEA. AIDEA — joined by Kaktovik Iñupiat Corp., North Slope Borough and Arctic Slope Regional Corp — then sued the Biden administration after the DOI paused leasing in ANWR in June 2021.
“The Biden Administration, at a time when America and our allies need Alaska’s resources more than ever, has decided to go their own way by further locking Alaska down while refusing to consult with the Alaska Natives who actually live on the North Slope,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.
“It’s not hard to predict what will happen as they allow the world’s worst actors to enrich themselves, while punishing Alaska,” she added. “Fewer jobs at home, more imports for California, and higher prices for everyone. These decisions are illegal, reckless, defy all common sense, and are the latest signs of an incoherent energy policy from President Biden.”
Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, said the actions were part of the Biden administration’s “unrelenting assault on our economy and our ability to lawfully access our lands.” He also argued they would create a chilling effect, disincentivizing energy investment in the state.
“I am deeply frustrated by the reversal of these leases in ANWR,” said Democratic Alaska Rep. Mary Peltola. “I will continue to advocate for them and for Alaska’s ability to explore and develop our natural resources, from the critical minerals we need for our clean energy transition to the domestic oil and gas we need to get us there.”
According to AIDEA, the non-wilderness section of the ANWR where its leases are located contains approximately 7.6 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The agency said a large share of economic development and jobs supported across Alaska’s indigenous and rural North Slope communities are related to oil and gas development.
Taxes on oil and gas activities in Alaska also provide key funding for communities statewide and for government services, schools, housing, health care and emergency services.