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Biden cancels Trump-approved oil and gas leases in the Arctic

In a massive win for the planet, the Biden administration has confirmed the cancellation of seven controversial oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, citing the need to conserve nature and protect Indigenous rights.

This week, the Biden administration confirmed its intent to cancel seven controversial oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, originally authorised in the waning days of the Trump administration.

The leases were previously granted to the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) and permitted drilling activities within the Arctic Refuge, an area considered sacred land to the Indigenous Gwich’in people.

It is also home to abundant wildlife, such as caribou herds, wolves, and more than 200 bird species – but securing its protection has been a long and tumultuous journey.

On his very first day in office, Biden issued an executive order to halt any development activities within the refuge. He demanded that a thorough examination of the lease sale should be carried out to understand its potential environmental consequences.

In a recent press conference, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland revealed that the in-depth analysis had found that the lease sale had ‘significant legal deficiencies’. Upon reading the report, a federal judge officially greenlighted Biden’s lease cancellations.

Secretary Haaland called the decision ‘a lifeline’ for the refuge’s coastal zone – an area of the planet that’s about as ecologically sensitive as they come.

On top of the lease cancellations, the Biden administration has proposed a rule aimed at protecting around 13 million acres in the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska (NPR-A).

If passed, the new ruling will provide maximum protection for designated “Special Areas” within NPR-A, including critical habitats for grizzly and polar bears, caribou, and migratory birds.

It will also require regular reviews of the land every five years, while limiting surface impacts of oil development where it is permitted.

To do so, it plans to also foster increased Indigenous involvement through co-stewardship arrangements to mitigate the accelerated effects of climate change in the Arctic and to safeguard resources of significance to the communities who live there.

Secretary Haaland stressed the urgency of addressing climate change, asserting that it is the defining crisis of our era, necessitating the highest standards of care to protect the fragile Arctic ecosystem.

In a statement from the White House, President Biden underscored the necessity of safeguarding Alaska’s natural landscapes and culturally significant areas from the impacts of climate change. He described his conservation agenda as the most ambitious in U.S. history and pledged to take further bold actions to protect the nation’s natural lands and waters for future generations.

Still, these newly proposed rules will not impact existing leases within the reserve, according to a senior Interior official.

Some areas are already seeing new oil projects gearing up, notably ConocoPhillips’ Willow project, the largest oil project approved by the Biden administration.

The Biden administration’s decision received swift reactions from both proponents and opponents of Arctic refuge development.

Conservationists celebrated the announcement, viewing it as a vital step towards protecting the Arctic wilderness.

Meanwhile, some critics, including Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy and AIDEA, vowed to challenge the administration’s action in court, claiming it violates federal laws.

Despite these challenges, the Biden administration remains dedicated in its commitment to prioritize conservation and address the pressing issues of climate change, offering hope for the preservation of these unique and fragile ecosystems for years to come.