• Sat. Sep 25th, 2021

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Biden Administration Orders New Review of Drilling in Arctic

The Biden administration will undertake a new environmental review of potential oil and gas development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska after citing what it called serious flaws in the initial review during the Trump presidency.

The Interior Department will file a notice of intent in the Federal Register on Wednesday that begins the process of conducting a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the oil and gas leasing program in the refuge’s 1.6-million-acre coastal plain. The notice says the analysis will include “addressing the deficiencies” in the original Trump-era impact statement.

The announcement of the new review, which begins with a 60-day public comment period, is the latest move by the administration of President Biden to unravel some of the pro-drilling achievements of the Trump White House. Mr. Biden opposes oil development in the refuge, which totals 19 million mostly pristine acres and is home to migrating caribou, polar bears and other wildlife.

The coastal plain, which is thought to overlie reserves containing billions of barrels of oil, had been off-limits to oil development for decades. That changed in 2017, when the Republican majority in Congress approved an oil and gas leasing program.

An Interior Department agency, the Bureau of Land Management, produced an environmental impact statement in 2019. It was given final approval in September, and leases for some tracts in the refuge were sold in the waning days of the Trump administration.

But two months ago, in an order that infuriated pro-development Alaskan lawmakers, the Interior Department suspended the leases pending a new review. The order said that among the flaws in the original impact statement, it failed to properly analyze a range of alternatives for leasing less acreage in the refuge, as required under federal environmental laws.

Environmental and conservation groups hailed the announcement of the new review.

In a statement, Kristen Miller, acting executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, called it “good news,” but said permanent protection of the refuge was needed.

“Until those leases are canceled and the Arctic Refuge drilling mandate reversed, one of the wildest places left in America will remain under threat,” she said.