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The Biden administration is restricting oil and gas leasing across 13 million acres of oil reserves in Alaska

JUNIAU, Alaska (AP) — The Biden administration said Friday it will restrict new oil and gas leases on 13 million acres of a federal petroleum reserve in Alaska to help protect wildlife such as caribou and polar bears while the Arctic continues to be too warm.

The decision — part of an ongoing, yearslong battle over whether and how to develop the state’s vast oil deposits — finalizes protections first proposed last year as the Biden administration prepared to close the controversial Willow to approve oil project.

Willow’s approval drew ire from environmentalists, who said the major oil project had been compromised Biden‘s pledge to fight climate change. Friday’s decision also confirms an earlier plan that called for closing nearly half of the reserve to oil and gas leasing.

A group of Republican lawmakers led by the U.S. Senator from Alaska. Then Sullivan, jumped ahead of Friday’s announcement of drilling restrictions in the Alaska National Petroleum Reserve before it was publicly announced. Sullivan called it an “illegal” attack on the state’s economic lifeline and predicted lawsuits.

“It’s more than a one-two punch for Alaska, because when you take away access to our resources, when you say you can’t drill, you can’t produce, you can’t explore, you can’t move it — this is the energy insecurity that we have.” what we’re talking about,” said Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

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The Home Office’s decision does not change the terms of existing leases on the reserve and does not affect currently permitted activities, including Willow.

In an olive branch to environmentalists, the Biden administration on Friday also recommended the denial of a state-owned company’s application regarding a proposed 338-kilometer road in the northwestern part of the state to allow the extraction of critical mineral deposits, including recording of copper, cobalt, zinc, silver and gold. However, there are no mining proposals or current mines in the area, and the proposed financing model for the Ambler Road project is speculative, the Department of the Interior said in a statement.

Sullivan accused the administration of undermining U.S. national security interests with both decisions. Political leaders in Alaska have long accused the Biden administration of hurting the state with decisions that limit development of oil and gas, minerals and timber.

President ‘Joe Biden is fine with our adversaries producing energy and dominating the world’s crucial minerals while locking up our own minerals in America, as long as the far-left radicals he believes are the key to his re-election are satisfied,’ said Sullivan at a meeting Thursday. Capitol news conference with ten other GOP senators. “What a dangerous world this president has created.”

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Biden defended his decision on the oil reserve.

Alaska’s “majestic and rugged lands and waters are among the most remarkable and healthy landscapes in the world,” are critical to Alaska Native communities and “demand our protection,” he said in a statement.

Nagruk Harcharek, president of Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat, a group that includes leaders from much of Alaska’s North Slope region, has been critical of the administration’s approach. The group’s board of directors previously passed a resolution opposing the government’s plans for the reserve.

The petroleum reserve – about 100 miles (161 kilometers) west of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge – is home to caribou and polar bears and provides habitat for millions of migratory birds. It was set aside about a century ago as an emergency oil source for the U.S. Navy, but has been under the supervision of the U.S. Department of the Interior since the 1970s. There has been a long-standing debate about where development should take place.

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Most of the existing leases in the Petroleum Reserve are clustered in an area considered to have high development potential by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which falls under the Department of the Interior. Development potential in other parts of the reserve is lower, the agency said.

The rules announced Friday would place restrictions on future leasing and industrial development in areas designated as special for their wildlife, livelihoods or other values ​​and call for the agency to regularly review whether to designate new special areas or extend protections in those areas need to be strengthened. The agency cited rapidly changing conditions in the Arctic due to climate change, including melting permafrost and changes to plant life and wildlife corridors, as the reason.

Environmentalists were pleased.

“This huge, wild place can stay wild,” said Ellen Montgomery of Environment America Research & Policy Center.

Jeremy Lieb, an attorney at Earthjustice, said the government has taken an important step to protect the climate with the latest decision. Earthjustice is currently involved in a lawsuit before a federal appeals court seeking to overturn Willow’s approval.

A decision in that case is pending.

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Daly reported from Washington.

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