The Biden administration’s move this week to cancel the seven remaining oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) clashes with a 2017 Trump tax law that requires oil and gas leasing in that area.
In a written statement, the White House said that “[c]anceling all remaining oil and gas leases issued under the previous administration … and protecting more than 13 million acres in the Western Arctic will help preserve our Arctic lands and wildlife, while honoring the culture, history, and enduring wisdom of Alaska Natives who have lived on these lands since time immemorial.”
The Hill reported that a 2017 tax law requires that at least one sale of drilling rights be held by the end of 2021 and that another be held by the end of 2024. In order to satisfy the law’s requirements, the Biden administration is expected to auction off ANWR land for oil and gas development.
The administration’s latest action is also expected to face a legal challenge, with Alaska’s Republican governor indicating that he will sue over the move.
“We will fight for Alaska’s right to develop its own resources and will be turning to the courts to correct the Biden administration’s wrong,” Gov. Mike Dunleavy said in a written statement.
Roughly the same size as North Carolina, the ANWR borders Canada’s Yukon in northeastern Alaska and sits on the traditional homeland of the Iñupiat and Gwich’in peoples. The refuge contains black, brown, and polar bears; caribou; wolves; wolverines; and more than 200 species of birds.
Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland told reporters that the lease sale held during the Trump administration was “seriously flawed and based on a number of fundamental legal deficiencies.”
“With today’s action, no one will have rights to drill for oil in one of the most sensitive landscapes on Earth,” she said Wednesday.
Citing a document released along with the decision to cancel the leases, The Hill reported that the administration will still lease land for drilling in the refuge area, as it is required to by the 2017 law, even if it prevails in the court challenge from Alaska’s government.
The Bureau of Land Management must decide “which tracts of land to offer for lease” and what conditions to put on those leases, according to the document.
According to Mark Squillace, a professor at the University of Colorado Law School, the Biden administration’s action presents “some risk from a litigation perspective.”
“I think there is a violation of the obligation to do a couple of leases there,” he said, adding that they don’t necessarily have to be the same leases issued by the Trump administration. He also said he is unsure if a court could issue “any significant remedy.”
In a written statement, Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor told The Hill the state is “very disappointed by President Biden’s decision” to cancel the leases “contrary to federal law.”
“We are still reviewing the documents and do not want to speculate on what any challenge might ultimately look like,” Taylor said. “But be assured that we will be fighting back.”
Nicole Wells ✉
Nicole Wells, a Newsmax general assignment reporter covers news, politics, and culture. She is a National Newspaper Association award-winning journalist.
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