Members of the Gwich’in delegation to Washington, DC, in mid-September 2019 to protect calving grounds on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. From left to right, Kaila Druck, Gwich’in Youth Council; Bernadette Demientieff, Executive Director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee; Jody Potts, Gwich’in chef; Quannah Potts, Gwich’in Youth Council; Melissa Frost, Gwich’in chef. Photo courtesy of the Gwich’in Steering Committee

The Biden administration has suspended oil leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge approved by President Donald Trump, pending an environmental scan by the Home Office on the potential environmental impact of drilling there .

Home Secretary Deb Haaland on Tuesday, June 1 announced plans for a full re-analysis of what such drilling activity could pose to the fragile environment of the National Wildlife Refuge.

The order specified that within 60 days, his agency would publish a notice in the Federal Register initiating the process to conduct a full environmental scan, complete necessary consultations and correct identified legal deficiencies.

Biden’s national climate adviser Gina McCarthy said the decision “would ensure that we take a little break and look at the whole strategy of (how) we look at public lands.”

Meanwhile, lawsuits asking the courts to cancel the rental program and cancel leases issued under the Trump administration remain in the court system.

The Congressional Budget Office noted in June 2019 that the US Geological Survey estimated that ANWR’s federal lands contain between 4.3 billion and 11.8 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil and that there is 50% these lands are likely to contain at least 7.7 billion barrels of oil. .

ANWR’s 19.3 million acres include wilderness that is home to migratory waterfowl, polar bears and the Porcupine caribou herd and their calving grounds, an area considered sacred by the Gwich ‘ in Athabascans whose region is the homeland.

The Gwich’in Steering Committee thanked the Biden and Haaland administration “for taking another step forward in protecting the sacred lands of the Arctic Refuge.”

According to the committee’s statement, “there is so much more to do to protect these lands for future generations, and today’s action is a step in that direction.”

The Alaska congressional delegation and Governor Mike Dunleavy meanwhile berated what they called the rescinding of legal leases at the wildlife sanctuary.

Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said the suspension of leases is in direct conflict with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, whereby Congress mandated the oil and gas exit program. gas for the coastal plain and ordered at least two lease sales by 2024..

“The oil and gas leasing program established by the Trump administration meets legal mandates required by Congress, including imposing a framework with a range of environmental safeguards that successfully guide production elsewhere in northern Alaska “she said.

Dunleavy said he opposes “this attack on the economy of Alaska” and will use whatever means “to undo this blatant federal reach.”

A number of indigenous and conservation groups have applauded the suspension of leases, while calling for new measures to protect the refuge. In a joint statement released by more than a dozen entities, they said these lands were sacred to the Gwich’in and Inupiat peoples and nurseries for Porcupine caribou, polar bears and millions of migratory birds. .

“There is still a lot to do,” said Kristen Miller, interim executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League. “Until the leases are canceled, they will remain a threat to one of America’s wildest places.”

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