Alaska’s Delegation, Governor, North Slope Leaders Criticize District Court for Upholding Biden Administration’s ANWR “Pause” in Violation of 2017 Law

U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan (both R-Alaska), Representative Mary Sattler Peltola (D-Alaska), Governor Mike Dunleavy (R-Alaska), and leaders from Alaska’s North Slope today criticized a U.S. District Court ruling dismissing the State of Alaska’s and the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority’s (AIDEA) legal challenge to the Biden administration’s suspension of lawfully-issued leases for oil and gas exploration in the non-wilderness Coastal Plain (1002 Area) of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The leases were issued in January 2021 pursuant to the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which authorized responsible energy development in ANWR.

“Through my leadership, Congress clearly mandated the responsible development of a small portion of the non-wilderness 1002 Area. Under no circumstance did we leave that to agency discretion, which is why I am so frustrated by yesterday’s court ruling against AIDEA. The judge has ignored the Biden administration’s obvious motives in placing an indefinite moratorium on the 1002 program, which are to make it unworkable for current leaseholders and unattractive for the lease sale statutorily required next year. Neither of those should be acceptable in a court of law,” said Senator Murkowski. “This multi-year suspension doesn’t protect the environment; it harms Alaska’s economy, jeopardizes our energy security, and empowers the likes of Russia and Iran in a world that is using more oil than ever. Furthermore, the court decision condoning it fails to recognize the sound analysis that underpinned the formation of the 1002 Area program and Alaska’s strong record of successfully balancing resource development with environmental protection. Decisions like this are inexcusable, and another reason why permitting reform must include strong reforms for judicial review that prevent agency actions from being driven by political agendas.”

“This decision is simply wrong on the law and wrong for Alaska and America. It disregards the plain meaning of federal law and the clear intent of Congress,” said Sen. Sullivan. “This decision also broadly undermines the economic interests of all Alaskans. It appears willfully naïve to conclude, as this court does, that the Biden administration’s ‘temporary pause’—issued on day one of the administration—is not an effort to subvert the law and indefinitely block lawfully-issued leases. President Biden and Secretary Haaland have undertaken numerous actions to delay ANWR development, without regard for the law Congress has passed. This insidious game plan has been played out endlessly on resource development projects in our state. We are witnessing a persistent, coordinated strategy to weaponize never-ending ‘review’ and ‘consultation’ to circumvent the law and undo years of work of previous administrations and career scientists and staff. Death by delay. I will continue to fight this unilateral targeting of the economy of our state with every tool at my disposal.”

“I am frustrated by yet another judicial ruling that overrides Congressional intent,” said Representative Peltola. “I firmly support Alaska’s ability to explore and develop its natural resources in order to create jobs and lower energy prices. This area was specifically set aside for leases by Congress in 2017, which were finally issued in 2021. Decisions like this show the importance of permitting reform and the necessity of predictable, reliable timelines for energy projects. We can’t afford to keep letting each new administration change the rules of the game when it comes to Alaskan energy.” 

“This is another poor decision, which is not a surprise given the track record of this particular court. The court got it wrong, and the decision will be appealed,” said Governor Dunleavy. “The point in holding a lease sale is to explore the potential oil and gas assets at ANWR. Congress authorized the lease sale, bidders secured leases and they should be allowed to explore and develop. We hope a higher court will reverse this decision. The sooner the better.”

“While I’m disappointed in yesterday’s decision, our region has consistently fought for 5 decades and we will continue to advocate and push for access and use of our ancestral homelands in ANWR for the economic and cultural benefit of the North Slope Iñupiat and all of our futures,” said State Representative Josiah Patkotak. “Kaktovik deserves a seat at the table being the only incorporated community located within the ANWR coastal plain.”

“This court decision enables the kind of federal overreach that has ignored the voices of local residents and crippled the spirit of Kaktovik residents for years," said North Slope Borough Mayor Brower. “We worked hand-in-glove with Congress as it was crafting the legislation to allow responsible development within ANWR. We did so because we, the Arctic Iñupiat, not D.C. bureaucrats who live thousands of miles away – are most affected by oil and gas activity in the Arctic. Therefore, we have the greatest stake in seeing that any and all development keeps our land and subsistence resources safe. That's why we were deeply troubled by the Biden administration's decision, from the very beginning, to suspend leasing activity in the 1002 Area of the Coastal Plain of ANWR, without consulting us—at the same time touting “consultation” with Native Peoples as a priority of this administration. That is why this court's decision is so infuriating to us, the people who live there. We have to find a better way. Going forward, the federal government must consider the opinions and views of the local Iñupiat who call the region home.”

“While ASRC is disappointed in yesterday’s decision, as we have for nearly four decades, ASRC will continue to advocate for access and use of our ancestral homelands in ANWR for the economic and cultural benefit of the North Slope Iñupiat and their descendants,” said Rex A. Rock, Sr., President and CEO of Arctic Slope Regional Corporation.

“This decision dismisses the needs and interests of of those who call this region home, harmingthe self-determination of the Iñupiat of the North Slope,” said Nagruk Harcharek, President of the Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat (VOICE). "In the best interest of our region,as expressed through a resolution passed by the VOICE Board of Directors in 2017, wewillcontinue to support the opening of the 1002 Area of ANWR tooil and gas exploration and development,and endorse taking all necessary actions to give effect to the resolution."

“Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation is disappointed with this decision because it creates additional delays for our community to realize the economic benefits which is frustrating,” said Charles Lampe, President of Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation. “The 1002 Area is part of the Kaktovikmiut homelands. We are the original stewards of this land, not the federal government nor any other group that is trying to claim it  - we take our stewardship seriously because our land is our survival. It’s sacred to us because it’s our homelands - it’s where our ancestors are buried, our children are born, the animals we depend on for survival exist in abundance - it’s our sustenance. ANCSA and ANILCA both promised economic freedom for our people; we worked hard to open the 1002 for oil and gas leasing both in Congress and throughout the EIS process.  We felt we were finally at the end of our 50-year wait to exercise our economic self-determination the Kaktovikmiut were promised but instead we are faced with more delays. We are frustrated and we are tired of being frustrated - we deserve more from the federal government.”

H.R. 1, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which became law in December 2017, required two lease sales and authorized the surface development of up to 2,000 federal acres of the non-wilderness Coastal Plain (roughly one ten-thousandth of all of ANWR).

Alaska has a strong record of responsible resource development. The footprint of drilling pads on the North Slope has declined by 80 percent since the 1970s, while new and safer technology has expanded the reach of underground drilling by 4,000 percent. The result is that less land is being used to develop resources than ever before; many modern sites cover just a few acres and are miles apart. The Central Arctic Caribou herd, which ranges throughout Prudhoe Bay, has seen its population grow for sustained periods alongside responsible development on the North Slope. 

ANWR spans 19.3 million acres, an area of land roughly equal in size to South Carolina, in northeast Alaska. In 1980, Congress designated more than eight million acres within ANWR – an area of land significantly larger than Maryland – as federal wilderness as part of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. That same legislation set aside the 1.57-million acre Coastal Plain for petroleum exploration and potential future development, which is supported by a majority of Alaskans.

Related Issues: Energy