Comment sought on ANWR leasing program

Congressional delegation, Dunleavy call BLM action a stalling tactic

The Bureau of Land Management has begun a 60-day public scoping period in advance of preparing a supplemental environmental impact statement or the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Coastal Plain Oil and Gas leasing program.

The plan is being hailed by environmental entities, including the Alaska Wilderness League, as a commitment to protect the refuge and honor the Gwich’in people, and criticized by the Alaska congressional delegation and Gov. Mike Dunleavy as a tactic to stall oil and gas exploration in ANWR.

“As we continue to face a worsening climate crisis, there is no place for the rushed, inadequate Arctic Refuge oil and gas plan finalized under the previous administration,” said Kristen Miller, acting executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League. The League contends there are serious flaws in the leasing program approved by the Trump administration and a need for a robust environmental review of oil and gas development in “one of the world’s most exceptional ecosystems.”’

The League urged the Biden administration to buy back those leases and for Congress to repeal the oil leasing mandate as part of the upcoming budget package, to restore protections to the coastal plain which provides calving grounds for caribou and is critical to the culture and sustenance of Alaska Native residents. ANWR, the nation’s largest national wildlife refuge at over 19 million acres, is also home to many species of plants and animals, including polar bears, grizzly bears, black bears, moose, wolves, eagles, lynx, wolverine, marten, beaver and migratory birds who rely on the refuge during their annual migrations.

The leases were issued in January pursuant to the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which authorized responsible energy development in ANWR, said the congressional delegation and Dunleavy.

With that legislation, the Interior Secretary was directed to establish these lease sales, said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. The Interior Department spent thousands of hours over nearly two years developing a full range of alternatives and protective mitigation measures that would apply to all oil and gas activities in the area, she said.

The Biden administration is throwing out the careful work of the BLM in another political stall tactic “at the behest of radical environmental groups and far-left members of the administration,” said Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska. In doing so they are “ignoring the will of Congress, the will of Alaskans and the best interests of the Alaska Native communities on the North Slope,” Sullivan said.

The BLM’s action in delaying resource exploration in ANWR “through bureaucratic red tape only insults Alaskans further,” said Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska.

The BLM held a lease sale on Jan. 6 during the waning days of the Trump administration, and subsequently issued 10-year leases on nine tracts of land covering over 430,000 acres.

Publication of the BLM’s notice of intent to prepare the supplemental EIS in the Federal Register on Aug. 3 initiated the comprehensive analysis of potential environmental impacts of the leasing program, including addressing deficiencies identified in the interior secretary’s order, the BLM said.

The Interior Department on June 1 issued Secretarial Order 3401, suspending all activities related to implementing the coastal plain leasing program in ANWR pending completion of the comprehensive analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Documents related to the EIS are online at cdv.tiny.us/eis. Comments on issues, impacts and potential new alternatives to be analyzed may also be submitted electronically at cdv.tiny.us/eis. Comments may also be mailed to the Bureau of Land Management, Attn: Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program Supplemental EIS, 222 West 7th Avenue, Stop #13, Anchorage, Alaska 99513.