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Oil and Gas Leases in the Arctic Refuge Are Suspended. Here’s What Needs to Happen Next.

On June 1, the Biden administration suspended oil and gas leases for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This is an important step toward protecting one of the planet’s last intact wild landscapes from the Trump administration’s unlawful effort to wring private profits out of our nation’s public lands.

The leases that are now suspended were issued recklessly by the Trump administration.

  • In its waning days of power, the Trump administration rushed ahead a lease sale that prioritized oil and gas development over local Indigenous communities, rare wildlife, and the intensifying threat of climate change.
  • Alongside other conservation groups and Indigenous organizations, Earthjustice challenged the proposed drilling program in court.
  • President Biden previously placed a temporary moratorium on oil and gas leasing activities on the Arctic Refuge coastal plainvia an executive order issued on his first day in office.

Suspending the leases is a move in the right direction, but more action is needed to protect the Arctic Refuge.

  • The Biden administration's action declares that the Trump leases suffer from multiple legal deficiencies. The leases are now suspended while the Biden administration considers whether to throw them out.
  • This is a good first step, but the leases will remain in place while the Biden administration conducts its comprehensive environmental analysis of the leases. The lawsuit we filed in 2020 asks the court to cancel the leases entirely, and Biden administration should itself do so quickly.
  • In order to protect the Arctic Refuge long-term, Congress must repeal the 2017 law that mandates oil leasing in the Refuge in the first place. It passed that law as part of the Trump tax cut and based on the false promise that Refuge leasing would bring money and jobs. It did neither.
  • The Biden administration should prioritize getting Congress to repeal the 2017 law and to rescind the existing leases.

Why is drilling in the Arctic Refuge such a terrible idea?

  • The Arctic is ground zero for climate change, with temperatures rising more than twice as fast as anywhere else on Earth.
  • Scientists believe that if we’re to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, it is essential to keep Arctic fossil fuel reserves in the ground.
  • Drilling in the Arctic Refuge would disrupt and pollute the habitat of many rare birds, fish, and mammals, including polar bears and caribou.
  • This destruction would threaten the food security and cultural identity of Indigenous communities including the Gwich'in, who have stewarded these lands since time immemorial.

Here’s what our clients are saying about the leasing suspension.

  • “We’re glad to see the administration take this important step to suspend the leases, and now we need Congress to make certain that it will never happen,” says Sarah Greenberger, senior vice president of conservation policy at the National Audubon Society. “Drilling America’s Arctic Refuge will threaten wildlife, boost carbon emissions, and harm communities already bearing the brunt of our changing climate.”
  • “The Biden administration knows they can’t re-establish American leadership on the critical fight against climate change, while letting these leases proceed,” adds Marcie Keever, legal director at Friends of the Earth. “What’s essential now is that they persuade Congress to revoke the law that produced the leases. Because no amount of environmental review is going to make it okay to ruin our premier wildlife refuge in pursuit of dirty energy we can’t ever afford to burn.”
  • “Congress opened the Refuge to drilling on false claims about big money and jobs,” says Kristen Monsell, senior attorney at Center for Biological Diversity. “It has to set things right, end its leasing mandate, and kill these leases outright. Americans want no part of them and are looking to the Biden administration to make sure Congress fixes this huge black eye fast.”
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service