ANCHORAGE DAILY PLANET
A dream decades in the making fizzled Tuesday as President Joe Biden, in one of his first acts as president, temporarily blocked oil and gas exploration and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska.
Biden’s moratorium, citing “alleged legal deficiencies,” comes on the heels of the first lease sale for refuge tracts earlier this month, a long-anticipated sale which did not draw as much interest as expected. The 10-year leases, sold as required by a 2017 law, cover about 440,000 acres on nine tracts in ANWR’s 1.5 million-acre coastal plain.
In a state that largely depends on its resources to make ends meet, Biden’s action – while unsurprising – is very bad news for Alaska. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates the coastal plain could produce as much as 16 billion barrels of oil and, long-term, be an economic mainstay for our struggling state.
The coastal plain is designated the “1002 Area,” after the section in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980 that sets it aside for oil and gas exploration – with congressional approval.
At the same time, the area was set aside for oil exploration and development, Congress, in keeping with a wilderness preservation policy in place since the 1950s, classified 8 million acres as wilderness and another 9.5 million as wildlife refuge.
The U.S. Department of Interior recommended 1002 Area development in 1987; Congress approved in 1995; and, then-President Bill Clinton killed the effort. Since then, nothing until the long-awaited Trump lease sales.
As one might expect, Alaska’s congressional delegation is unhappy with Biden’s action putting the coastal plain of the South Carolina-sized refuge out of bounds.
“At a time when the United States, and especially Alaska, is struggling to deal with the impacts of #COVID19, I am astounded to see that the Biden administration’s ‘day one’ priority puts our economy, jobs, and nation’s security at risk,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski tweeted.
Americans did not give Biden “a mandate to kill good-paying jobs and curry favor with coastal elites,” Sen. Dan Sullivan said in a statement.
“It’s not surprising, though no less disappointing, that President Biden is continuing Obama-era attacks against Alaska,” Congressman Don Young said in a Facebook post. “By placing a moratorium on energy development in ANWR, the President has surrendered to his party’s environmental extremists.”
And, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy: “Make no mistake about it, President Biden appears to be making good on his promise to turn Alaska into a large national park.”
If Biden’s actions become permanent, and he ran for office promising to take ANWR permanently off the table, Alaska loses an economic building block. It loses future revenue. It loses more jobs. It loses a piece of its future.
Maybe Biden actually is moving to make Alaska into a “large national park” as Dunleavy suggests.
If that comes to pass, if more and more of the state’s resources are put off-limits, Alaska, as we have said before, will end up a lot like Appalachia, only colder and darker.