Interior Secretary Deb Haaland has suspended oil and gas drilling leases in the tract of Alaskan land known as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Originally, the Trump administration made drilling leases for the area available only a couple of weeks ahead of Joe Biden’s inauguration, but now, Haaland’s move “dims the prospect of oil drilling in a pristine and politically charged expanse of Alaskan wilderness that Republicans and Democrats have fought over for four decades,” The Washington Post explains, referring to the Arctic refuge.
At this point, the leases have not been completely cancelled, and the Post notes that a “major legal battle” could soon take shape over the Biden administration’s decision to go after the drilling plans. In the Tuesday order from the Interior Department outlining the suspension of the leases, Haaland said that an examination of the Trump administration’s distribution of the drilling rights uncovered “multiple legal deficiencies.” Those deficiencies, Haaland added, included “insufficient analysis” as legally required, and she’s now calling for “a new, comprehensive analysis of the potential environmental impacts of the oil and gas program.”
Haaland is the first Interior Secretary with an Indigenous background, and Indigenous communities near the wildlife refuge expressed their support for the suspension of the leases. As a committee from the Gwich’in tribe put it:
‘The Gwich’in Nation is grateful and heartened by the news that the Biden administration has acted again on its commitment to protecting sacred lands and the Gwich’in way of life.’
Notably, not a single major oil drilling company even tried to get involved in developing the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge when the Trump administration made the opportunity available. Instead, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority — a state agency in Alaska — ended up obtaining most of the drilling rights in question. The agency obtained a total of seven leases, with just two winning bids from other interests. The Biden administration’s decision to suspend the Alaskan drilling leases marks another development in the president’s ongoing push to address the fallout of the last administration’s damaging policies. Biden has also been proactively working in policy areas like economic development and voting rights.