News-Miner opinion: The Biden administration’s strange Jekyll and Hyde behavior when it comes to oil and gas leases in Alaska is leaving many Alaskans, including the governor and congressional delegation, scratching their heads. It is harder and harder to know where it stands on Arctic oil development.
On the one hand, the Biden administration is defending in court a huge Trump-approved Arctic oil and gas project on the North Slope, ConocoPhillips’ Willow project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. The effort is expected to produce more than 100,000 barrels of oil per day for the next three decades. Former President Donald Trump’s approval of the Willow project late last year was challenged in court by environmentalists and other usual suspects.
On the other hand, Biden Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on Tuesday temporarily suspended signed agreements that were to allow up to a dozen oil and gas leases on much of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s 1.5 million-acre coastal plain. Those leasing agreements were approved by Trump last year and the first ANWR lease sale occurred Jan. 6.
Why the ANWR lease suspensions? More environmental review is needed, Haaland said.
Tuesday’s action followed President Joe Biden’s Jan. 20 executive order temporarily halting new gas and oil drilling in ANWR because of “alleged legal deficiencies” that included the “inadequacy of the environmental review required by the National Environmental Policy Act.”
It is just the latest move in a long federal effort to block oil and gas development in the refuge, which may contain more than 10 billion barrels of oil. Congress set aside ANWR’s coastal plain, the so-called 1002 area, in 1980 for oil and gas development. Lawmakers opened the 19.5 million-acre Arctic refuge’s coastal plain in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which calls for an oil and gas leasing program on the coastal plain, and at least two lease sales by 2024.
The Biden administration’s ANWR lease suspensions stirred anger among Alaska’s leaders.
“I oppose this assault on Alaska’s economy and will use every means necessary to undo this egregious federal overreach,” Gov. Mike Dunleavy said in a joint statement with Alaska’s top political leaders.
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, along with Rep. Don Young, sharply criticized the order suspending ANWR energy leases in the refuge’s coastal plain.
“The Biden administration’s actions are not unexpected, but are outrageous nonetheless,” Murkowski said.
The suspensions go “against the law, facts, the science and the will of the Native communities on the North Slope,” Sullivan said, and amount to “nothing more than a naked political move by the Biden administration to pay off its extreme environmental allies.”
You have to ask yourself why the Biden administration inexplicably would go to court to back a massive oil project about 100 miles to the west of ANWR while again defying congressional intent and halting exploration on ANWR’s coastal plain.
Alaska, after all, has decades of experience when it comes to responsibly, safely and efficiently managing its resources extraction industries and has some of the tightest environmental regulations anywhere, which belies the Biden administration’s excuse for the lease suspensions — that more review is necessary.
It smacks of crass politics, a payoff to environmental interests at Alaska’s expense for Biden’s support of the ConocoPhillips’ project, which is expected generate 2,000 jobs and $10 billion in revenue for state, local and federal governments during its lifetime.
It is difficult to know what Alaska will get next with the Biden administration: Jekyll or Hyde. The best thing Biden & Co. could do for the nation, and Alaska, is get out of the way and allow this state to manage its resources without federal political interference.