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Alaska weighing options to push back on new review of ANWR leasing

Seal of the state of Alaska.
Seal of the state of Alaska.(KTUU)
Published: Aug. 3, 2021 at 7:03 PM AKDT
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) -The Alaska Department of Law is deciding how to respond to the federal government’s announcement that it will hold another environmental review of oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

“The continued delay tactics of the Biden administration greatly impact the State of Alaska and our ability to responsibly develop resources and support our economy,” said Cori Mills, a spokesperson for the department. “We are looking at all available options to push back on these unreasonable and unnecessary delays, although no specific path, or set of paths, has yet been chosen.”

President Joe Biden’s administration suspended a leasing program of the coastal plain in June. The Department of the Interior had reviewed how the program was approved and said that process had “legal deficiencies.”

The federal government will now prepare a “supplemental” environmental impact statement and consider alternatives for how the 10-02 region is used. Some of those alternatives include shrinking the land available for development from 1.5 million acres to 2,000 acres.

Developing the coastal plain has been a 40-year goal for many in Alaska. A federal law passed in 2017 moved that one step closer, mandating that two lease sales must occur by 2024.

The first ANWR lease sale in January was poorly attended and major oil companies did not bid. The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority ended up with seven of the 11 tracts of land available to lease.

Alan Weitzner, who heads the authority, said the state-run corporation is now considering its options and did not rule out a legal challenge against the federal government. He said the corporation will assert its leaseholding rights by submitting permitting requests to conduct surveys of the land.

Weitzner added that he has not received any information on what the “legal deficiencies” are from the first environmental review process.

Tuesday’s announcement was welcomed by conservationists. Andy Moderow, who heads the Alaska Wilderness League, says the first environmental review under former President Donald Trump was rushed and did not have enough outreach with people living in the region.

He is calling for the repeal of the 2017 law that mandates the lease sales.

“And at the end of the day, I think it will become crystal clear both to the Biden administration and Congress that drilling in the refuge is not the way forward,” Moderow said.

Alaska’s Republican congressional delegation and Gov. Mike Dunleavy were frustrated by the second review announcement, calling it “devastating” and an attempt to turn Alaska “into one big national park.”

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