From The Washington Post (Juliet Eilperin and Joshua Partlow):
The Biden administration on Tuesday suspended oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, targeting one of President Donald Trump’s most significant environmental acts during his last days in office.
The move by the Interior Department, which could spark a major legal battle, dims the prospect of oil drilling in a pristine and politically charged expanse of Alaskan wilderness that Republicans and Democrats have fought over for four decades. The Trump administration auctioned off the right to drill in the refuge’s coastal plain — home to hundreds of thousands of migrating caribou and waterfowl as well as the southern Beaufort Sea’s remaining polar bears — just two weeks before President Biden was inaugurated.
Now the Biden administration is taking steps to block those leases, citing problems with the environmental review process. In Tuesday’s Interior Department order, Secretary Deb Haaland said that a review of the Trump administration’s leasing program in the wildlife refuge found “multiple legal deficiencies” including “insufficient analysis” required by environmental laws and a failure to assess other alternatives. Haaland’s order calls for a temporary moratorium on all activities related to those leases in order to conduct “a new, comprehensive analysis of the potential environmental impacts of the oil and gas program.”
The step, coming just days after the Justice Department defended another drilling project on Alaska’s North Slope, underscores the balancing act the new administration aims to strike as it slows fossil fuel development on public lands. While Biden has paused new federal oil and gas leasing and pledged to drastically cut the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, he has taken a much more cautious approach toward most oil and gas operations approved under his predecessor.
Last week, Justice Department attorneys filed a brief defending ConocoPhillips’s Willow project, an oil reservoir on the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska that could hold up to 300 million barrels of oil. The administration also has defended the Trump administration’s decision to issue oil and gas leases in Wyoming and declined to press for the shutdown of the Dakota Access pipeline, a project Haaland protested while serving in Congress.
But Tuesday’s move signaled that the new administration was willing to take aggressive action in an area that has been a rallying cry for environmentalists for decades.