Alaska Delegation, Governor Rebuke Biden Administration for Cancelling Lawful ANWR Leases

ANCHORAGE, ALASKA—U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, Congressman Don Young, and Governor Mike Dunleavy (all R-Alaska) today criticized the U.S. Department of the Interior for announcing it will suspend all oil and gas leases for portions of the non-wilderness Coastal Plain (1002 Area) of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), pending the outcome of another environmental review. The leases were issued in January pursuant to the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which authorized responsible energy development in ANWR.

ANWR spans 19.3 million acres, an area of land roughly equal in size to South Carolina, in northeast Alaska. In 1980, Congress designated more than eight million acres within ANWR as federal wilderness as part of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). That same legislation set aside the 1.57-million acre Coastal Plain for petroleum exploration and potential future development, which is supported by a majority of Alaskans.

“The Biden administration’s actions are not unexpected but are outrageous nonetheless,” said Senator Murkowski. “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. In addition, The Act specifically states that the purpose of the 1002 area of ANWR is oil and gas development.  The oil and gas leasing program established by the Trump Administration meets the legal mandates required by Congress including imposing a framework with a range of environmental safeguards that are successfully guiding production elsewhere in northern Alaska. This action serves no purpose other than to obstruct Alaska’s economy and put our energy security at great risk. Alaskans are committed to developing our resources responsibly and have demonstrated our ability to do so safely to the world.”

“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 Senator Sullivan. “The law is clear: Congress mandated the leasing program in the 1002 Area and required two lease sales within seven years. BLM Alaska’s staff worked tirelessly to develop a comprehensive and durable EIS and leasing program in order to issue the first leases in 2021. The announcement today disregards that fact-based scientific work, as well as the property interests of those who hold these leases, including the State of Alaska. It also utterly disregards BLM scientists and Alaskans from across the political spectrum—Republicans, Democrats, Independents, unions, working families, as well the Alaska Natives who live closest to the area and who fought for decades for the right to allow for the responsible development of the 1002 Area of ANWR in order to strengthen our communities and build a better life for our children.”

“I am extremely dismayed by the Administration’s decision to freeze oil leases in ANWR,” said Congressman Young. “Make no mistake; this suspension is a grave one, not only for those employed by Alaska’s energy industry but also for the Alaska Native community of Kaktovik. Despite being the primary stakeholders involving policy affecting their land, the pro-development voices of the Kaktovik Iñupiat continue to be ignored by those who believe they know better than the people who actually live in ANWR. I know that Alaskans can responsibly balance energy development with environmental conservation; I suspect that deep down, President Biden knows this as well, given his 1980 vote for ANILCA which set aside a portion of ANWR for oil extraction. When President Carter signed ANILCA into law, Alaskans were promised the right to drill on the Coastal Plain, making this Executive Action well outside the original scope of Congressional intent. The fact is that we have conducted extensive environmental reviews and have successfully carried out lease sales. This is not the time to roll back our progress in ANWR, especially amid an economic downturn caused by the pandemic. I call on President Biden to honor the law and the will of Alaskans, and to reverse this decision that will harm so many of our state’s families.”

“The Biden Administration’s suspension of leases in the ANWR 1002 Area is contrary to federal law. 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,” said Governor Dunleavy. “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. Yet the federal government is focused on trying to stop our ability to produce oil and gas. Each action they take demonstrates a failure to comprehend the worldwide demand for oil and gas. If Alaska continues to be denied its constitutional right to safely develop resources, countries with much lower environmental standards will gladly fill that void with significant environmental impacts. Shutting down our lands was not what William Seward intended when Alaska was founded and we are not going to allow the Biden administration to turn Alaska into a giant national park.”

Alaska has a strong record of responsible resource development. The footprint of drilling pads on the North Slope has declined by 80 percent since the 1970s, while the reach of underground drilling has grown by 4,000 percent. As a result, less land is being used to develop resources than ever before; many modern sites cover just a few acres and are miles apart. Local caribou populations have grown alongside development at Prudhoe Bay.

Timeline

  • On the afternoon of January 20, President Joe Biden announced a pause on all federal activities, including seismic testing, in the 1002 Area of ANWR.
  • On the morning of January 20, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) under the Trump administration announced thesigning and issuing of leases on nine tracts of land that received qualifying bids from the first lease sale for lands in ANWR.
  • On December 7, 2020, BLM published a Notice of Sale for the first lease sale in the 1002 Area of ANWR.
  • On November 11, 2020, BLM announced it will issue a Call for Nominations for tracts to be offered in the first lease sale in the 1002 Area of ANWR.
  • On August 17, 2020, BLM released its Record of Decision (ROD) for an oil and gas program in the 1002 Area of ANWR.
  • On December 20, 2018, BLM released the draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for the 1002 Area of ANWR.
  • On December 22, 2017, President Donald Trump signed H.R. 1, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, a bill that opens the 1002 Area of ANWR to responsible energy development. The second title of the act authorizes the surface development of up to 2,000 federal acres of the non-wilderness Coastal Plain (roughly one ten-thousandth of all of ANWR), which could bring an estimated 10.4 billion barrels of oil to market.

This press release originally appeared on the website of U.S. Senator for Alaska Dan Sullivan.

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