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Restrictions on AK Petro Rese 04/19 05:31

   

   JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) -- The Biden administration said Friday it will restrict 
new oil and gas leasing on 13 million acres (5.3 million hectares) of a federal 
petroleum reserve in Alaska to help protect wildlife such as caribou and polar 
bears as the Arctic continues to warm.

   The decision -- part of an ongoing, yearslong fight over whether and how to 
develop the vast oil resources in the state -- finalizes protections first 
proposed last year as the Biden administration prepared to approve the 
controversial Willow oil project.

   The approval of Willow drew fury from environmentalists, who said the large 
oil project violated Biden's pledge to combat climate change. Friday's decision 
also cements an earlier plan that called for closing nearly half the reserve to 
oil and gas leasing.

   A group of Republican lawmakers, led by Alaska U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, 
jumped out ahead of Friday's announcement about drilling limitations in the 
National Petroleum-Reserve Alaska even before it was publicly announced. 
Sullivan called it an "illegal" attack on the state's economic lifeblood, and 
predicted lawsuits.

   "It's more than a one-two punch to Alaska, because when you take off access 
to our resources, when you say you cannot drill, you cannot produce, you cannot 
explore, you cannot move it -- this is the energy insecurity that we're talking 
about," Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski said.

   The decision by the Interior Department doesn't change the terms of existing 
leases in the reserve or affect currently authorized operations, including 
Willow.

   In an olive branch to environmentalists, the Biden administration also 
Friday recommended the rejection of a state corporation's application related 
to a proposed 210-mile (338-kilometer) road in the northwest part of the state 
to allow mining of critical mineral deposits, including copper, cobalt, zinc, 
silver and gold. There are no mining proposals or current mines in the area, 
however, and the proposed funding model for the Ambler Road project is 
speculative, the Interior Department said in a statement.

   Sullivan accused the administration of undermining U.S. national security 
interests with both decisions. Alaska political leaders have long accused the 
Biden administration of harming the state with decisions limiting the 
development of oil and gas, minerals and timber.

   President "Joe Biden is fine with our adversaries producing energy and 
dominating the world's critical minerals while shutting down our own in 
America, as long as the far-left radicals he feels are key to his reelection 
are satisfied,'' Sullivan said Thursday at a Capitol news conference with 10 
other GOP senators. "What a dangerous world this president has created."

   Biden defended his decision regarding the petroleum 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 Iupiat, a group whose 
members include leaders from across 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 administration'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 migrating birds. It was set aside around a century ago 
as an emergency oil source for the U.S. Navy, but since the 1970s has been 
overseen by the U.S. Interior Department. There has been ongoing, longstanding 
debate over where development should occur.

   Most existing leases in the petroleum reserve are clustered in an area 
that's considered to have high development potential, according to the U.S. 
Bureau of Land Management, which falls under the Interior Department. The 
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, 
subsistence or other values and call for the agency to evaluate regularly 
whether to designate new special areas or bolster protections in those areas. 
The agency cited as a rationale the rapidly changing conditions in the Arctic 
due to climate change, including melting permafrost and changes in plant life 
and wildlife corridors.

   Environmentalists were pleased.

   "This huge, wild place will be able to remain wild," Ellen Montgomery of 
Environment America Research & Policy Center said.

   Jeremy Lieb, an attorney with Earthjustice, said the administration had 
taken an important step to protect the climate with the latest decision. 
Earthjustice is involved in litigation currently before a federal appeals court 
that seeks to overturn Willow's approval.

   A decision in that case is pending.

 
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