This undated aerial photo provided by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows a herd of caribou on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska. The Biden administration is suspending oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as it reviews the environmental impacts of drilling in the remote region.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration is suspending oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as it reviews environmental impacts of drilling in the remote region that has been the focus of a political fight for decades, according to two people who have been briefed on the administration’s plan.
The Interior Department order was set to be announced later Tuesday. It follows a temporary moratorium on oil and gas lease activities imposed by President Joe Biden on his first day in office. Biden’s Jan. 20 executive order suggested a new environmental review was needed to address possible legal flaws in a drilling program approved by the Trump administration under a 2017 law approved by Congress.
The people briefed on the plan requested anonymity because the plan had not been officially released.
The remote, 19.6 million-acre refuge is home to polar bears, caribou, snowy owls and other wildlife, including migrating birds from six continents. Republicans and the oil industry have long been trying to open the wildlife refuge, considered sacred by the Indigenous Gwich’in, for drilling. Democrats, environmental groups and some Alaska Native tribes have been trying to block it.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, an Interior Department agency, held a lease sale for the refuge’s coastal plain on Jan. 6, two weeks before Biden took office. Eight days later the agency signed leases for nine tracts totaling nearly 685 square miles (1,770 square kilometers). However, the issuance of the leases was not announced publicly until Jan. 19, former President Donald Trump’s last full day in office.