A polar bear sow and two cubs are seen on the coast of the Beaufort Sea in Area 1002 of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
US Fish and Wildlife Service | Reuters
The Biden administration on Monday canceled a Trump administration plan that would have allowed the government to lease more than two-thirds of the country’s largest piece of public land to oil and gas drilling.
Bureau of Land Management decision will reduce the amount of land available for rent in the Alaska National Petroleum Reserve, a region of about 23 million acres home to wildlife such as caribou and polar bears.
The decision reverts to the Obama administration’s plan, which allows up to 52% of fossil fuels to be extracted, compared to the Trump administration’s efforts to open up 82% of the land for drilling. It will also restore some conservation measures in certain areas of the reserve, including Lake Teshekpuk, a wetland complex uniquely rich in wildlife.
The move comes after the Bureau of Land Management approved a series of oil and gas permits for drilling on public lands. dropped to the lowest under the Biden administration earlier this year.
In 1923, former President Warren G. Harding set aside the reserve as an emergency oil supply for the US Navy. In 1976, the Naval Oil Resources Act designated an area specifically for oil and gas production and placed it under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management.
Reserve over $56 million earned in 2019 oil and gas rental income, according to the Bureau of Land Management.
Oil and gas production on the reserve could release more than 5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, roughly equivalent to the amount of carbon released in the entire country in 2019, according to the US Energy Information Administration.
Kristen Monsell, ocean legal director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said reversing the Biden administration’s decision is not enough to address the climate crisis and stop new fossil fuel production.
“More drilling in the Arctic also means more oil spills, more contaminated communities, and more harm to polar bears and other vulnerable wildlife,” Monsell said in a statement. “Biden officials can and should use their power to help us avoid catastrophic climate change and support the transition to a fair, renewable economy.”