In a Jan. 10 press release, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced its intention to revert to a land-management plan that took effect in 2013 to guide decisions concerning federal lands in the Western Arctic, ground-zero for oil and gas drilling in Alaska. If finalized, the decision would jettison a Trump-era land-management plan that opened the floodgates to the fossil fuel industry across the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, an Indiana-sized swath of tundra that is home to Alaska Native communities and offers critical habitat for iconic Arctic species.
Jeremy Lieb, an attorney at Earthjustice based in Anchorage, issued the following statement in response to the announcement:
“We filed a lawsuit challenging the unlawful management plan devised under the Trump administration, and we welcome the Biden administration’s intention to throw out Trump’s plan opening vast acreage to the oil and gas industry in the Western Arctic. This announcement is an encouraging first step — but settling on a policy that is nearly a decade old would be devastating for the climate, and the administration will need to do more to meet its commitments to address the climate emergency.
“Alaska’s Arctic is where permafrost is thawing, glaciers are vanishing, and villages are being hastily relocated before falling into the sea — and extracting and burning oil and gas only makes Alaska’s climate change problem worse. While the 2013 management plan is more protective than the Trump-era plan, it also green-lighted new oil leasing and gave rise to proposals such as ConocoPhillip’s Willow development project, which would ultimately release the carbon pollution of 66 coal-fired power plants running for a year. What’s urgently needed today are stronger protections for this irreplaceable landscape, and a policy toward public lands in Alaska’s Arctic that takes the science of climate change seriously and seeks to live up to our international climate commitments.”
In December 2020, Earthjustice filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s decision to revise the Western Arctic Integrated Activity Plan by opening nearly 19 million acres of the 23-million-acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska to oil and gas leasing. As part of an executive order issued when he was first sworn into office, President Biden ordered the Bureau of Land Management to revisit this decision. The Jan. 10 announcement was the outcome of this review.