In a widely anticipated move, US President Joe Biden’s administration is to suspend oil and gas leases in an Alaska wildlife refuge, pending an environmental review.
The action reverses one of the last actions under President Donald Trump, whose Interior Department sold the leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in January over the objections of environmentalists and indigenous groups.
Biden’s Interior Department said it had notified the leaseholders, which include an Alaska state agency.
The review, which will examine “legal deficiencies” in the previous administration’s environmental analysis of leasing in ANWR, will determine whether the leases would stand, be voided, or be subject to mitigation measures, the statement said.
The ANWR leasing program is already the subject of lawsuits by environmental and indigenous groups that allege the Trump administration violated federal law by performing a faulty environmental analysis that failed to adequately consider its impact on wildlife and native people.
The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, which holds seven of the ANWR leases, said it was disappointed by the decision and did not have any reason to believe that the auction’s underlying environmental analysis was inadequate.
During his campaign, Biden had pledged to protect the 19.6 million-acre pristine habitat for polar bears, caribou and migratory birds.
White House National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy said Biden was “grateful for the prompt action by the Department of the Interior,” and said the Trump administration’s hastily-held auction of oil and gas leases in the refuge “could have changed the character of this special place forever.”
The move delivers a setback to the Alaskan state government, which had hoped opening the refuge would help revive its under-pressure oil industry.
“Our leases for oil and gas are valid and cannot be taken away by the federal government,” Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy said in a statement. “I oppose this assault on Alaska’s economy and will use every means necessary to undo this egregious federal overreach.”