Alaska’s political leaders, others react to Biden’s moratorium on drilling in ANWR

 Grass pokes through the snow in the wind-scoured plains in ANWR's 1002 area.
Grass pokes through the snow in the wind-scoured plains in ANWR's 1002 area. (KTUU)
Published: Jan. 20, 2021 at 8:06 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - On his first day in office, newly inaugurated President Joe Biden made a quick move passing several executive orders targeting the federal government’s responses to COVID-19 and climate change. The order to effectively ban any and all drilling for oil within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge drew strong criticism from those who have supported opening up the “1002 area” to oil exploration.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy told Alaska’s News Source that Biden’s decision is a “lose-lose-lose-lose” situation for Alaska’s economy, rural communities, the federal government and responsible state-led resource development.

“It attacks the very essence of Alaska,” the governor said. “Between the jobs, between the oil in the pipeline reducing transportation costs, between the royalty share — Alaska loses across the board on this, and the country loses.”

The announcement drew similar reactions from all three members of Alaska’s congressional delegation.

“It is not surprising, though no less disappointing, that President Biden is continuing Obama-era attacks against Alaska,” began a written statement from the office of GOP Rep. Don Young.

Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan called the decision “job-killing orders.”

“As we are struggling to rebuild our economy, these directives announced today will cause real harm to millions of Americans, and thousands of Alaskans,” Sullivan said. “Jobs will be lost. Families will struggle.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska’s senior senator, often broke with the Trump Administration; however, on the issue of ANWR, both pushed to give oil companies access to the refuge’s coastal plain. Just hours after congratulating Biden on his presidency, she issued a statement in opposition to his first actions as head of the executive branch.

“I am astounded to see that the Biden administration’s ‘day one’ priority is put our economy, jobs, and nation’s security at risk,” Murkowski said.

Dunleavy says his office also plans to push the issue, once it has a better idea of how the moratorium on drilling will be implemented. The congressional delegates have vowed to push back against the president’s move to undo the law which was passed as part of the tax cut and jobs act of 2017; however, the level of interest in leases within ANWR did draw far less attention than many expected it might.

The state-led Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, which now possesses seven of the nine leases issued by the Bureau of Land Management, passed on opportunities to comment on the matter on Wednesday morning. It’s unclear exactly what will become of the leases, which were finalized on Tuesday, less than 24 hours before Biden was set to take office.

The executive order itself also states that the overseeing secretary will review the current oil and gas program and, as appropriate and consistent with the law, conduct a new analysis of the potential environmental impacts.

Meanwhile, tribal and environmental groups are celebrating the move and praising Biden’s quick actions — including the Gwich’in Steering Committee, which filed legal action seeking to halt the lease sale which occurred earlier this month.

“It is so important that our young people see that we are heard, and that the president acknowledges our voices, our human rights and our identity,” Executive Director Bernadette Demientieff wrote. “We know there’s so much work ahead, and are thankful that the President will take early actions to help protect these lands forever.”

In Fort Yukon, Gwichyaa Zhee 2nd Tribal Chief Michael Peter was supportive of the president’s announcement that his tribe’s sacred lands will be protected.

“The last administration, what they tried to do in Utah and with the keystone pipeline was done with no regard to indigenous people’s right and our way of life,” he said.

Siqiniq Maupin, director of Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic, also said she supports the president’s newly-minted order, citing, in particular, the land’s importance, history and cultural impacts.

“Looking at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, that is food security for Gwich’in and Iñupiaq people,” she said, “an untouched ecosystem. It’s a huge breath of relief, but it is also a long ways ahead.

“We shouldn’t have had to fight this for the last four years,” she added.

While many outside of Alaska’s delegation said they are against development in ANWR, there’s a large contingent that’s also for it. Kara Moriarty of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, for example, said in an emailed statement Wednesday that the Biden Administration is moving too quickly, and without any discussions with stakeholders.

“These swift decisions will impact the long-term future for Alaskans, and the country,” she wrote. “The demand for oil and gas is not going away in the next few decades.

“We stand ready to work with this Administration to find common ground on future issues,” she continued. “Our state’s economy depends on a vibrant industry.”

Alaska’s News Source also reached out to several of the Alaska Native corporations who have voiced support for responsible resource developments in ANWR in the past. The Arctic Slope Regional Corp. deferred questions to those who were actually issued leases. When reached by phone, another individual from the Kaktovik Iñupiat Corp. requested that we submitted questions by email, and did not offer a response before this article was first published.

Beth Verge contributed to this report.

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