Energy & Environment

Interior Department withdraws Trump rule loosening Arctic drilling regulations

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The Interior Department announced Friday it will withdraw a rule proposed in the final months of the Trump administration to lift safety restrictions on oil and gas drilling in the Arctic.

The initial rule, published in December 2020, would have undone regulations on oil, gas and sulfur drilling in the Arctic Outer Continental Shelf that were instituted in 2016, during the Obama administration.

Regulations undone in the Trump-era rule included a regulation requiring oil operators in the region to show they can promptly begin containment operations in the event of a spill. It would also have eliminated a requirement that oil operators submit thorough plans for any new drilling operations. The rule was one of a flurry of late-stage Trump administration rules on energy in the region and was never finalized.

“The Department of the Interior is committed to a careful, responsible approach in managing America’s offshore resources,” an Interior Department spokesperson said in a statement Friday. “The Arctic exploratory drilling regulations released in 2016 are critical to ensuring adequate safety and environmental protections for this sensitive ecosystem and Alaska Native subsistence activities.” 

The announcement is the latest of several moves by the Biden administration to undo Trump-era rollbacks of environmental protections. In a separate executive order in 2017, then-President Trump reversed the Obama administration’s permanent prohibition on offshore Arctic Ocean oil and gas drilling. Two years later, an Alaska district court ruled the rollback was unauthorized, which an appeals court upheld in April.

President Biden also signed an executive order upon taking office that temporarily blocked all oil and gas activity in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Separately, Senate Democrats have introduced legislation that would block further drilling by designating the ANWR as wilderness.

The administration has also sought a delay on cases challenging the opening up of the region. The Environmental Protection Agency has separately asked the Justice Department to seek a moratorium on any cases in which it defended Trump-era environmental rules.

Tags Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Arctic Refuge drilling controversy Donald Trump Interior Department Joe Biden

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