The Biden Administration has officially suspended several leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and is currently awaiting the completion of an environmental review. This decision comes after an executive order signed on January 20, which placed a temporary moratorium on drilling in the ANWR, undoing a significant achievement of the Trump Administration.

Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colorado) took to Twitter yesterday to announce the news.

The suspension marked the first real step in delivering on campaign promises to end all new oil and gas leasing on federal lands. However, pausing these leases does not guarantee that no drilling will occur on the Arctic Refuge. For that to occur the Biden Administration would have to cancel the leases, and it is currently only committed to reviewing them. To cancel the leases, the Biden Administration would have to prove the leases were granted illegally.

Suspending the ANWR drilling lease has been meet with strong opposition for Alaskan elected officials, chief among them, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). “Suspending leases in Alaska’s 1002 Area is in direct conflict with the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, through which Congress mandates an oil and gas leasing program be established on the non-wilderness Coastal Plain, and ordered at least two lease sales by 2024,” she said in a statement. “In addition, The Act specifically states that the purpose of the 1002 area of ANWR is oil and gas development. The oil and gas leasing program established by the Trump Administration meets the legal mandates required by Congress including imposing a framework with a range of environmental safeguards that are successfully guiding production elsewhere in northern Alaska. This action serves no purpose other than to obstruct Alaska’s economy and put our energy security at great risk. Alaskans are committed to developing our resources responsibly and have demonstrated our ability to do so safely to the world.”

In response, Gina McCarthy, the White House domestic climate policy adviser, stated: “President Biden believes America’s national treasures are cultural and economic cornerstones of our country and he is grateful for the prompt action by the Department of the Interior to suspend all leasing pending a review of decisions made in the last administration’s final days that could have changed the character of this special place forever.”

Drilling in the ANWR has been a constant source for contentious debate in D.C. Marcella Burke, an energy lawyer and previous Deputy General Council for the EPA under the Trump Administration stated, “Since the Carter administration, whether ANWR can be leased is determined by which party is in the White House.”

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