The Biden administration delivered another hit to domestic oil-and-gas production amid soaring energy prices by reversing the Trump-era move to open up millions of acres to drilling in Alaska, drawing rebukes Tuesday from outraged Republicans.
The Bureau of Land Management announced Monday that it would shelve the Trump administration’s 2020 plan to expand leasing on the 23-million-acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), a move that would close off development on about 7 million acres by reverting to the 2013 management plan.
“This decision reflects the Biden-Harris administration’s priority of reviewing existing oil and gas programs to ensure balance on America’s public lands and waters to benefit current and future generations,” said the agency in a statement.
Decrying the decision was the Alaska congressional delegation, which accused President Biden and his team of threatening the state’s economy with anti-development policies and working against U.S. energy independence.
“For years, the NPR-A has been crucial to providing affordable energy to families across our country,” said Rep. Don Young, Alaska Republican. “This move by the Biden Administration is not only insulting to the hardworking men and women on the North Slope, but also extremely foolish. Gas prices around the nation are soaring; why then would President Biden and the BLM want to kneecap our domestic production, thereby emboldening our oil-producing adversaries overseas?”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican, said there had been “zero analysis or consultation” with state lawmakers before the decision, which was confirmed in a Monday filing in the U.S. District Court for Alaska.
She pointed out that the area is a petroleum reserve “specifically designated for energy development, located within a state that already has tens of millions of acres of parks, refuges, and federal wilderness.”
“The current management plan was carefully crafted to protect the reserve’s most sensitive areas and includes numerous safeguards for responsible development,” Ms. Murkowski said. “Sweeping restrictions like this – which are being imposed even as the Biden administration implores OPEC+ to produce more oil – demonstrate everything that is wrong with its energy policies.”
In June, the Biden administration suspended oil leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, prompting a lawsuit in November from the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, which called the moratorium illegal.
Congress approved ANWR leasing in 2017.
“No state in the country has been singled out like Alaska with such a destructive war on our working families, which hits our Alaska Native communities particularly hard,” said Sen. Dan Sullivan, Alaska Republican, adding that the Biden administration has taken 21 executive actions targeting the state’s economic development.
Cheering the policy reversal were environmentalists who said opening the region to drilling would worsen climate change.
“This is an important reversal of one of the most damaging decisions to come out of the Trump administration’s final days,” said Aaron Weiss, deputy director of the Center for Western Priorities. “Former [Interior] Secretary David Bernhardt committed a spree of regulatory vandalism on his way out the door, and it’s taken a full year to reverse that damage.”
Mr. Bernhardt unveiled in October 2020 the final plan to expand drilling access within the petroleum reserve, saying it would boost U.S. energy security, while environmental groups said the increased production would place wildlife at risk.
The Center for Biological Diversity tweeted Tuesday that the Biden administration‘s reset was “better than the Trump-era plan it replaces but far short of what’s needed to address the #ClimateEmergency.”
Mr. Biden has made reducing greenhouse-gas emissions in the name of fighting climate change a top priority of his administration, but his crackdown on oil-and-leasing on federal lands has come under fire as natural gas prices soar.
Rick Whitbeck, Alaska state director for the pro-energy Power The Future, said the decision to throttle production in Alaska’s North Slope should come back to haunt the White House.
“The next time the Biden administration claims they are powerless to stop high gas prices, remember this decision,” Mr. Whitbeck said. “For generations, the people of Alaska have done their part to deliver affordable and reliable energy to our nation and the decision by the Interior Department not only hurts jobs and our economy but also provides another nail in the coffin of American energy independence.”
The preferred alternative under the 2020 Integrated Activity Plan would have kept more than 4 million acres off-limits to leasing and “represented a suitable balance for managing the reserve,” said the Republicans.
The area contains an estimated 8.7 billion barrels of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and 25 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.