Bipartisan Congressional Leaders Oppose Biden Administration’s Move to Close Alaska’s ANWR for Energy Development

Just months after approving the Willow project in Alaska, the Department of Interior has doubled back on oil and natural gas development in Alaska and canceled the only active leases in the state’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). At the same time, the DOI announced new rules to prevent future oil and natural gas development in a separate 13-million-acre swath of the state known as the National Petroleum Reserve — Alaska (NPR-A).

The solution to rising gasoline prices caused by high summer demand and OPEC+ production cuts is definitely not blocking more energy production. But from the very limited number of lease sales this administration has held to delaying the release of the five-year offshore leasing program to pulling millions of resource-rich acres from development in Alaska, the White House has consistently taken steps to reduce the amount of oil and natural gas produced in America.

While the ANWR lease sales were mandated by a 2017 law, the Biden administration cited “flawed” environmental reviews as justification for the abrupt cancelation. The same law requires one more lease sale to be held in ANWR by 2024, but Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) told NPR he’s skeptical the lease will proceed as required by law:

“They just yanked those leases… But now we’re going to get ready for the next lease sale. Give me a break. Who the hell in their right mind would invest money in a lease sale when they just watched the first lease sale get yanked?”

The Biden administration’s move was met with bipartisan criticism on the Hill. According to NPR, Sen. Murkowski (R-AK) told reporters that “she wants to put pressure on Biden to reverse his decision but cautioned that it’s “‘incredible to think that people are going to trust this administration on anything related to oil in Alaska.’”

Rep. Mary Peltola (D-AK), another member of the Alaska Congressional delegation, pointed out the economic consequences of the decision that will mainly impact members of tribal communities, many of whom support oil drilling in the ANWR:

“This administration showed that it is capable of listening to Alaskans with the approval of the Willow Project, and it is some of those same Inupiat North Slope communities who are most impacted by this decision. I will continue to advocate for them and for Alaska’s ability to explore and develop our natural resources.”

Voice of Arctic Inupiat, the coalition of local governments, tribes, and other North Slope stakeholders, also decried the administration’s decision. The organization’s president, Nagruk Harcharek, said:

“Today’s announcement by the Biden administration to rescind leases in the ANWR and further ‘protect’ 13 million acres of our ancestral homelands flies in the face of our region’s wishes and self-determination.”

While the harshest economic impacts will be felt by North Slope communities, pulling millions of acres from leasing will compromise jobs and energy security in Alaska and beyond, as the ANWR leases were estimated to produce 7.6 billion barrels of oil and 7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Limiting production of oil and natural gas on federal lands does not reduce demand for energy at home or globally – all it does is make foreign oil imports more attractive, as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) pointed out.

Sen. Manchin took a hard line on the Biden administration’s inexplicable decision to effectively stop production in ANWR, calling the decision “embarrassing”:

“Let’s be clear — this is another attempt to use executive action to circumvent a law to accomplish what this administration does not have the votes to achieve in Congress… Canceling valid leases, removing acreage from future sales, and attempting to reduce production in Alaska while taking steps to allow Iran and Venezuela to produce more oil — with fewer environmental regulations — makes no sense and is frankly embarrassing.”

Bottom Line: As energy prices increase across the country, the Biden administration’s mixed messages on domestic production continue. Bipartisan congressional leaders agree: the Biden administration’s decision to close millions of acres for oil and natural gas leasing in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will compromise domestic energy security, and more concerningly, prevent job growth and economic development among the North Slope tribes.

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