Joe Biden Overturns Key Trump Program, Freezes Oils Leases in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Pending Review
Joe Biden’s administration will overturn one of former President Donald Trump’s most significant policy moves citing a rushed job by Trump’s team. The Interior Department will suspend several oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge today, according to a new report from the Washington Post.
The move will be fought in court, most predict, but that won’t stop Biden plans to freeze close to a dozen leases in the untouched land in Alaska that Republicans and Democrats have been fighting over for as long as anyone can remember.
The Trump administration followed through on a plan to expand drilling in the region and auctioned off the right to drill in the refuge’s coastal plain two weeks before President Biden was sworn in. The reasoning given by Biden admin officials for the freeze is that Trump and his team rushed the last-minute auction and did not follow proper procedures.
Perhaps acknowledging the political fight ahead, the January sale of 11 tracts in the refuge brought in around $14 million, a much smaller amount than many expected with most going for the minimum of $25 an acre.
From The Washington Post:
The step, coming just days after the Justice Department defended another drilling project on Alaska’s North Slope, underscores the balancing act the new administration aims to strike as it slows fossil fuel development on public lands.
While President Biden has paused new federal oil and gas leasing and pledged to drastically cut the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, he has taken a much more cautious approach toward most oil and gas operations approved under his predecessor.
On Wednesday, DOJ attorneys filed a brief defending ConocoPhillips’ Willow Project, an oil reservoir on the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska that could hold up to 300 million barrels of oil.
The administration has also defended the Trump administration’s decision to issue oil and gas leases in Wyoming and declined to press for the shutdown of the Dakota Access Pipeline, a project Interior Secretary Deb Haaland protested while serving in Congress.
The Biden administration is moving to suspend all oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge pending a deeper look at the environmental impacts of drilling in the sensitive region, according to a person with direct knowledge of the decision.
The suspension of the leases follows President Joe Biden’s January 20 executive order that identified “alleged legal deficiencies” in the original leasing program and put in place a temporary moratorium on any oil- and gas-related activities in the refuge.
The executive order also left open the possibility that the department would undertake a new environmental review to address potential legal flaws in the program.
A new environmental analysis could impose additional restrictions on development in the refuge or potentially nullify the leases altogether, undoing one of the signature policy achievements of the Trump administration.
But it would not go as far as green groups have requested in an ongoing lawsuit, which aims to void the leases that were awarded earlier this year.
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