Biden Administration Announces Anti-Oil Restrictions on 13 Million Acres of Alaskan Petroleum Land

The Biden administration has announced restrictions on oil and gas leasing on more than 13 million acres of an Alaskan petroleum reserve to conserve land valuable to the “Alaska Native people” and “important fish and wildlife,” as Republican lawmakers protest the “illegal” move.

The U.S. Department of the Interior, led by Biden appointee Secretary Deb Haaland, celebrated the restrictions on Friday, saying, “These steps follow President Biden’s actions to protect millions of acres of lands and waters in the Arctic.”

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“Following significant engagement with the public, Alaska Native Tribes, and Alaska Native Corporations, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) finalized the Management and Protection of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A) rule that will ensure maximum protection for significant resource values on the more than 13 million acres of Special Areas in the western Arctic, while supporting subsistence uses and needs for Alaska Native communities,” the federal agency stated.

The new rules won’t impact current leases on the NPR-A, which is owned by the federal government. Projects that have already been authorized, including the controversial Willow Project, will still be able to occur. 

Haaland said the restrictions underscore the Biden administration’s “commitment to ensure that places too special to develop remain intact for the communities and species that rely on them.”

U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland testifies during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources hearing on May 2, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

She went on to credit “science” as well as “Indigenous Knowledge practiced over millennia” as factors in her department’s decision-making process. 

John Podesta, Biden’s clean energy czar, also praised the decision for protecting native Alaskans. 

“Today’s historic actions to protect lands and waters in the western Arctic will ensure continued subsistence use by Alaska Native communities while conserving these special places for future generations,” Podesta said. “With these new announcements, the Biden-Harris administration has now protected more than 41 million acres of lands and waters across the country, leaving a huge mark on the history of American conservation.” 

John Podesta, senior adviser to the president for clean energy innovation, speaks during a news conference at the White House in Washington, DC, on August 16, 2023. (Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The move was also celebrated by climate-activist Democrat lawmakers, with Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) calling it a win for wildlife and the “Indigenous people who have stewarded these lands for generations.”

Alaska Republicans, meanwhile, have been speaking out against the administration. 

A group of lawmakers, headed by Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK), made a statement ahead of the Interior Department’s announcement, with Sullivan calling it an “illegal” attack on the state’s oil and gas industry.

“Today we are here to discuss how the Biden administration is fine with our adversaries producing energy and dominating the world’s critical mineral markets while shutting down those in America,” Sullivan said in a speech.

Saying that Americans are “living in the most dangerous times since World War II,” the senator went on to lambast the federal government for allowing “dictators in Beijing, Moscow, and Tehran” to “undermine our national security interests.”

According to Sullivan, the U.S. “desperately needs” those 13 million acres for oil and gas, as well as national security purposes.

“The Biden administration is not normal, indeed this administration is deliberately undertaking policies to punish Americans and undermine our strengths while continuing to help our adversaries,” Sullivan said.

He added that “no group of Alaskans gets harmed more than our Alaska Native people” by this decision.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) echoed Sullivan’s sentiments.

“It’s more than a one-two punch to Alaska, because when you take off access to our resources, when you say you cannot drill, you cannot produce, you cannot explore, you cannot move it — this is the energy insecurity that we’re talking about,” she said.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) on July 13, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

According to South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune, who also joined the Alaska politicians in their stance against the Interior Department’s decision, “these policies are insane.”

“Common sense would dictate that you wouldn’t be taking 13 million acres out of supply when the world desperately needs it, and we’ve got 38.8 percent increase in energy costs here in the United States,” Thune said. 

Biden defended the move in a White House press release, saying, “My Administration will continue to take ambitious action to meet the urgency of the climate crisis, protect America’s lands and waters, and fulfill our responsibility to the next generation of Americans.”

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