By: Rory Zeman
On Sept. 6, US President Joe Biden announced his plan to protect 10 million acres of land known as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil drilling. This protective measure contradicts the objective of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, which previously purchased 365,000 acres of land in the Refuge for oil drilling under former President Donald Trump.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland played a significant part in Biden’s decision, explaining that “there are some places where oil and gas drilling and industrial development simply do not belong,” and the Refuge is one of them. Haaland also contributed to ending all of the outstanding leases, which the government gave to industrialists during Trump’s presidency, that remained for the extraction of oil and gas in the Refuge. Haaland noted that “With today’s action, no one will have rights to drill for oil in one of the most sensitive landscapes on Earth.”
These measures will provide the wildlife of the Refuge with a protective haven that will block any outside interference with the area. Biden’s initiative will preserve the caribou population, one of the most endangered species in North America, along with a variety of different Alaskan fish and coastal bird species. The initiative will also guarantee that the land belonging to the Native peoples of the area will not be decimated and that they will not be evicted from their homes. Biden detailed his preservative steps saying, “[we] will help preserve our Arctic lands and wildlife, while honoring the culture, history, and enduring wisdom of Alaska Natives who have lived on these lands since time immemorial.”
Despite his intention to protect the Alaskan wilderness, Biden is receiving backlash for his efforts from people on all sides of the political and environmental spectrum. Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, a supporter of the oil industry, disclosed that Biden’s actions are “illegal, reckless, defy all common sense, and are the latest signs of an incoherent energy policy.” Murkowski also added that due to the skyrocketing gas prices and the current embargo on Russian oil, Biden’s plans are taking shape “at a time when America and our allies need Alaska’s resources more than ever.”
However, Biden is also facing criticism from climate change activists such as Raena Garcia, the senior public lands and fossil fuels campaigner of Friends of the Earth, who belittled Biden’s attempts at preserving the planet by calling his attempt just another “small measure” in his “disappointing climate record with respect to oil and gas leasing.” Furthermore, Garcia and other climate activists have spoken out about Biden’s contradictory nature, who approved the Willow Project earlier in his term, which may produce over 500 million barrels of oil over the next 30 years. Many Americans are also questioning this decision considering the reality that it will have little impact on the climate crisis, forcing Americans to resort to foreign oil instead of their own.
(Sources: CNN, NBC, Washington Post)