Biden administration kicks off second look at Arctic refuge drilling
The Biden administration is formally launching its review of the Trump administration’s opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling after a prior determination that its predecessor’s action had “legal deficiencies”
The Interior Department announced the review in a notice of intent scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Wednesday, which indicated that it would carry out a rigorous environmental review known as an environmental impact statement.
The review will serve “to identify the significant issues, including any legal deficiencies in the Final EIS [Environmental Impact Statement],” Laura Daniel-Davis, principal deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management, said in the notice.
The supplemental EIS ordered by the department will analyze the potential effects of leasing on surface waters, wetlands and vegetation, as well as wildlife such as caribou, birds and polar bears and the greenhouse gas emissions caused by leasing activity.
It will also consider possible alternatives such as declaring some areas of the Coastal Plain off-limits to leasing, banning surface infrastructure in “sensitive areas” and barring more than 2,000 acres of surface development across the Coastal Plain.
The formal announcement in the Federal Register notice follows an announcement made in June that there will be a further environmental review after the Biden administration said that it found the legal deficiencies in the formal decision that opened up the refuge for drilling.
This included what Interior Secretary Deb Haaland described as a “failure to adequately analyze a reasonable range of alternatives” in the prior environmental review.
A 2017 law passed during the Trump years required at least two lease sales — one of which has already occurred — by the end of 2024, so an attempt to completely reverse could present legal difficulties.
But the Biden administration could put new stipulations on drilling. It has also indicated that it may seek to make changes to existing leases, saying in June that after the review they would either be reaffirmed, voided or subject to additional measures to lessen their environmental impacts.
In the meantime, the leases are suspended.
The Federal Register notice formally starts the public scoping process for the review, during which the public is allowed to weigh in with comments.
While many environmentalists oppose drilling in the refuge, some called on the Biden administration and Congress to go even further.
“The Trump administration aggressively moved to get leases into the hands of oil companies prior to the end of its only term, and until those leases are canceled and the Arctic Refuge drilling mandate reversed, one of the wildest places left in America will remain under threat,” Kristen Miller, acting executive director for the Alaska Wilderness League, said in a statement.
“We call on the Biden administration to work with Congress to repeal the oil leasing mandate and buy back those leases as part of the upcoming budget package, restoring protections to the Arctic Refuge coastal plain.”
The Alaska refuge is home to grizzly bears, polar bears, gray wolves and more than 200 species of birds and contains land considered sacred by the Gwich’in people.
—Updated at 2:32 p.m.