Biden reverses Trump’s move to open more oil drilling in the Arctic

A polar bear sow and two cubs are seen on the Beaufort Sea coast in area 1002 of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service | Reuters

The Biden administration on Monday reversed a Trump administration plan that would have allowed the administration to lease more than two-thirds of the country’s largest public land for oil and gas drilling.

The Bureau of Land Management’s decision will reduce the amount of land available for lease in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve, a roughly 23 million-acre region that is home to wildlife such as caribou and polar bears.

The decision returns to an Obama administration plan that would allow fossil fuel extraction in up to 52% of the reserve, compared to the Trump administration’s effort to open 82% of the country to drilling. It will also restore some environmental protections to designated areas of the reserve, including Lake Teshekpuk, a wetland complex uniquely rich in wildlife.

The move comes after the number of Bureau of Land Management-approved oil and gas permits for drilling on public land fell to its lowest level under the Biden administration earlier this year.

In 1923, former President Warren G. Harding provided the reserve as an emergency oil supply for the US Navy. In 1976, the Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act designated the area specifically for oil and gas development and placed it under the Bureau of Land Management.

The reserve generated more than $56 million in oil and gas lease income in 2019, according to the Bureau of Land Management.

Oil and gas production in the reserve has the potential to release over 5 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, roughly equivalent to the amount of carbon released nationwide in 2019, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

Kristen Monsell, Oceans Legal Director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said the Biden administration’s reversal is not enough to address the climate crisis and end extraction of new fossil fuels.

“More drilling in the Arctic also means more oil spills, more polluted communities, and more damage to polar bears and other vulnerable wildlife,” Monsell said in a statement. “Biden officials can and must use their power to help us avoid catastrophic climate change and support the transition to an equitable, renewable economy.” Biden reverses Trump’s move to open more oil drilling in the Arctic

Gary B. Graves

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