ICYMI: Biden Targets Alaska’s Petroleum Reserve

Washington, DC –The Hill recently published an opinion piece from Alaska’s bipartisan congressional delegation, outlining how the Biden administration is targeting the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A) with sweeping restrictions that are designed to prevent future development.

The delegation argues these restrictions are unfair, unlawful, and will hurt Alaska’s economy and West Coast energy security while doing nothing to address climate change. Despite this, the Biden administration’s proposed rule has largely flown under the radar, and they are barreling ahead to finalize it—once again putting election-year politics ahead of good policy and process.

The opinion piece is available online and pasted below in full. We encourage you to read it to understand not only how the Biden administration’s true energy policies are being revealed in a literal petroleum reserve, but also how they are deliberately ignoring the voices of Alaska Natives, the rule of law, our strategic interests, and—yet again—harming our future.

The Hill (Opinion): Biden Targets Alaska’s Petroleum Reserve

By Senator Lisa Murkowski, Senator Dan Sullivan, and Rep. Mary Peltola

February 28, 2024

When President Biden recently suspended the approval of new U.S. liquified natural gas (LNG) export facilities, he drew bipartisan condemnation for an election-year move that places politics over good policy and process. We’re facing a similar travesty in Alaska, where the administration is seeking to radically rewrite the fundamental purposes of our National Petroleum Reserve (NPR-A).

Late last year, the Department of the Interior proposed a rule to overhaul its management of the NPR-A, a 23-million-acre expanse the size of Indiana located in the northwest portion of our home state. Through it, the administration is seeking to convert nearly all of the petroleum reserve, which Congress explicitly designated for energy development starting in 1923, from a strategic national asset to a giant conservation unit where no future production is permitted.

You don’t need to take our word for it; the Bureau of Land Management, which wrote the draft rule, openly admits as much. Their proposal claims existing leases will not be affected, but layers in restrictions and prohibitions to prevent their development. It erects new barriers for connective infrastructure, like gathering lines, needed to link projects in the petroleum reserve to our central hub in Prudhoe Bay. The rule even seeks to establish a presumption that future leasing and development will simply not be allowed.

In promulgating this rule, officials from the Department of the Interior also ignored the voices of Alaska Natives, publicly acknowledged they are rushing it to avoid congressional nullification, and deliberately downplayed its economic impacts to avoid scrutiny from other agencies.

The administration has done this to appease national environmentalists regardless of federal law, their commitment to elevate Native voices, the millions of acres of sensitive areas within the petroleum reserve that are already withdrawn from development, and our nation’s broader economic, environmental, and security interests.

At no point does it appear the administration stopped to consider that this rulemaking is both illegal and counterproductive—even if it is meant as “payback” for doing the right thing and re-approving the Willow Project in the area last year.

The reality is that a century ago, Congress designated the NPR-A for energy development, and more recently directed the BLM to speed things up through “an expeditious program of competitive leasing.”

Until the last few months, there was no mistaking Congress’ direction, and development in our petroleum reserve held bipartisan support. Even President Obama—no fan or friend of Alaska oil—repeatedly encouraged companies to bid on leases and invest there. Some did, leading to projects that can help refill the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, which is three-quarters empty, and boost Alaska’s supply to refineries along the West Coast, where foreign imports have soared. 

Now, that is at stake.

From a legal perspective, the Biden administration is unilaterally reinterpreting federal statute to justify managing millions of acres of land in a manner that is directly contrary to congressional intent—yet another blow to the rule of law, and a prime candidate to fall should the Supreme Court restrict Chevron deference.

Then there’s the real world, where this rule will harm our state and energy security while doing nothing to address climate change.

Instead, it will stop the creation of good jobs for Alaskans and revenues needed to build modern infrastructure across our state, some of which will be necessary to adapt to climate change. In doing so, it will create a vacuum for future energy that is filled not by Alaska, but autocrats in countries like Russia, Iran, and Venezuela, giving them the means to stay in power as they sow corruption and terror around the world.

The last few months have been especially infuriating for the Alaska Natives who live within or near the NPR-A. Many were away from their communities when this rule was announced and blindsided by it after returning from their fall subsistence hunts. Others were unable to review the rule until a months-long internet outage was finally resolved after its release.

If you think the Biden administration might play nice or go easy amid those circumstances, you’d be wrong—his regulators have ignored their commitments to Native peoples.

Instead of consulting with Alaska Natives on the North Slope, BLM violated its own policies and deliberately excluded them from informing the development of this rule. Hastily arranged public meetings after the policy was set—including one where administration officials claimed they couldn’t extend the comment period, because they were trying to avoid the Congressional Review Act—have cemented our view that this is a fait accompli, not a true public process.

Despite our opposition, and the opposition of most Alaskans, the Biden administration is still barreling full speed ahead to finalize this dangerous rule. Should they, Congress or the courts will have no choice but to step to in and overturn it. There is plenty of precedent and cause for that, but the better move is for President Biden to end the charade by directing BLM to withdraw it.

Lisa Murkowski is the senior senator from Alaska, Dan Sullivan is the junior senator from Alaska and Mary Peltola represents Alaska’s at large congressional district.