Biden Shields Millions of Acres of Alaskan Wilderness From Drilling and Mining

The Biden administration on Friday expanded federal protections to millions of acres of Alaska’s wilderness, blocking oil, gas and mining operations in some of the nation’s most preserved lands.

The Interior Department said it would deny a permit for an industrial road the state of Alaska wanted to build through the gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve to reach a major copper deposit worth an estimated $7.5 billion. He also announced he would ban drilling in more than half of the 23 million-acre Alaska National Petroleum Reserve, an ecologically sensitive expanse north of the Arctic Circle.

Together, the two measures constitute one of the largest efforts in history to protect Alaskan lands from drilling and mining. They are expected to face challenges from industry as well as elected leaders in Alaska, where oil and gas revenues make up a large portion of the state budget and mining is one of the main drivers of the economy.

“The majestic, rugged lands and waters of Alaska are among the most remarkable and healthiest landscapes in the world, supporting a vibrant subsistence economy for Alaska Native communities,” President Biden said in a statement. communicated.

Part of an environmental blitz ahead of Earth Day, the Alaska ads are designed to help Mr. Biden cement his climate and conservation legacy and win back voters still angry about the decision he made last year to approve Willow, an $8 billion oil drilling project in 2017. Alaska.

In recent weeks, the administration has announced strict new emissions limits for automobiles; increased the cost of drilling and mining on public lands while making it easier to conserve these federal lands; and issued a series of regulations to limit the presence of toxic chemicals in the air and drinking water. Mr. Biden also expanded the boundaries of several national monuments.

“From saving sacred lands near the Grand Canyon to protecting Alaska’s treasures, my administration has conserved more than 41 million acres of lands and waters,” Biden said. “But as the climate crisis imperils communities across the country, more must be done. My administration will continue to take ambitious action to address the urgency of the climate crisis, protect America’s lands and waters, and fulfill our responsibility to the next generation of Americans.

The Interior Department has determined that there should be “no action” on a proposal to build a 211-mile industrial highway through the Brooks Range on federal land that has not been affected by the man. Known as Ambler Road, the proposed two-lane gravel road would have crossed 11 rivers and thousands of streams before reaching the site of a copper deposit.

The Interior Department estimated that the road would significantly and irrevocably disrupt wildlife habitat, pollute salmon spawning grounds, and threaten the hunting and fishing traditions of more than 30 Alaska Native communities. The agency is expected to officially deny a highway permit to the state of Alaska’s economic development agency in the coming weeks.

Conservationists and tribal leaders called the government’s decision a historic victory.

Chief Brian Ridley, President of the Tanana Chiefs Conference, which represents 42 villages in interior Alaska, said the Ambler Road decision “is a monumental step in the fight for indigenous rights and environmental justice.”

But Sen. Dan Sullivan, Republican of Alaska, said blocking the road was “lawless,” and Rep. Mary Peltola, the state Democrat, called it “disappointing.”

Farther north, the Interior Department finalized a rule that removes 13 million acres of Arctic tundra from future oil and gas drilling. It guarantees “maximum protection” in more than half of the Alaska National Petroleum Reserve, a swath of pristine wilderness on the state’s northern slope, bounded by the Chukchi Sea to the west and the Beaufort Sea to the north.

The move would not affect the Willow Project, Alaska’s largest new oil field in decades, which is expected to produce up to 180,000 barrels per day over the next 30 years.

Republicans said cutting millions of acres of oil drilling in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve would weaken national security, drive up energy prices and deprive Alaska of billions of dollars in tax revenue .

“The Biden administration is OK with our adversaries producing energy and dominating global markets for critical minerals while shutting down America’s,” Sullivan said at a news conference Thursday. , with senior state senator Lisa Murkowski and nine others in attendance. Senate Republicans.

Mr. Biden is “destabilizing our security as a nation in ways that most did not believe possible,” Ms. Murkowski said. She accused the Biden administration of wanting to “lock down Alaska.”

U.S. oil production is at record levels and the United States is the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas.

Oil industry executives have suggested they will challenge the legality of the administration’s actions.

“This misguided rule from the Biden administration sharply limits future oil and natural gas development in the Alaska National Petroleum Reserve, a region explicitly intended by Congress to strengthen America’s energy security while generating “significant economic growth and revenue for local Alaska communities,” Dustin Meyer, senior vice president for policy, economic and regulatory affairs at the American Petroleum Institute, the leading lobbying group, said in a statement. Of the industry.

The rule also widened the divide among Alaska Natives, already divided over the future of fossil fuels in the Arctic, a region both deeply threatened by climate change and dependent on oil for employment.

As the planet warms from greenhouse gas emissions from oil, gas and coal, Alaska is warming at a faster rate than the lower 48 states. That means the state is experiencing more coastal erosion, melting permafrost and sea ice, unstable soil and more wildfires.

At the same time, about 95 percent of the $410 million annual budget of the North Slope borough, which borders the oil reservation, comes from local taxes on oil and gas operations. “There is no other economy for our region,” said Doreen Leavitt, natural resources director for the Arctic Slope Inupiat Community.

The Alaska National Petroleum Reserve, located about 600 miles north of Anchorage, was established in 1923 to serve as a source of oil for the U.S. Navy.

It is the largest tract of public land in the United States. Although the term “oil” is part of the reserve, some of the most valuable habitats for fish and wildlife on the Arctic coastal plain are found within the reserve.

“It’s so misunderstood by the public,” said Gerrit Vyn, producer and director of photography at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, who has documented migratory birds in the Arctic.

“People think it’s just windswept tundra, but NPR-A is the largest wetland in the Polar Arctic, with the highest density of nesting shorebirds in the world ” said Mr. Vyn.

Areas that will be protected under the Interior Department’s decision include habitat for grizzly bears and polar bears, caribou and hundreds of thousands of migratory birds. Administration officials said they view the new actions as a “firewall” against both future fossil fuel leasing and the expansion of existing projects on the North Slope.

The Interior Ministry said the move responded to the concerns of Alaska Native communities who have depended on the land, water and wildlife to support their way of life for thousands of years.

Rosemary Ahtuangaruak is a former mayor of Nuiqsut, an Inupiat community of just 550 residents and the closest village to the Willow site.

“For too long, oil and gas leaders have prioritized our voices and the needs of the communities that live here,” Ms. Ahtuangaruak, who now leads an environmental group in Alaska, said in a statement.

She added: “The administration must continue to build on these critical protections to protect wildlife habitat and the health of our Alaska Native communities, so we can continue to maintain and pass on traditions and the activities of our seniors for years to come.

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