While radical environmentalists are praising the move, Gov. Mike Dunleavy, U.S. Senators Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski, Rep. Mary Peltola and a host of Alaska Native leaders blasted the Biden administration’s Sept. 6 announcement that it was unilaterally cancelling legally-obtained oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The move locks up the vast federal National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska and thwarts a years-long attempt to drill in the region.

Negating the leases negatively impacts the state-owned Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, which purchased the leases on 365,000 acres back in 2017, and threatens to decimate Alaska Native economies in the area.

Biden’s Interior Secretary Deb Haaland boasted that the decision means “no one will have rights to drill for oil” in the region. She added that “oil and gas drilling” simply does not belong in the region.

An angered Sen. Sullivan issued a scathing rebuke of the Biden Administration, following the announcement.

“Having just spent more than a month home in communities across our state, there is palpable anger and frustration among Alaskans about the Biden administration’s unrelenting assault on our economy and our ability to lawfully access our lands. This war on Alaska is devastating not only for Alaska but also the energy security of the nation,” he stated. “Today, the Biden administration unlawfully cancelled ANWR leases held by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA), bringing us to 55 executive orders and actions specifically targeting Alaska since President Biden assumed office.”

Sullivan called the most recent decision “incredulous” and devastating to future oil and gas extraction in Alaska.

“What investor in their right mind would ever consider spending millions of dollars in ANWR having just witnessed the administration pull the rug out from under the last standing lessee from the previous sale?” he said. “Unfortunately, that seems to be the point. The administration is putting on a legal charade by pretending to follow the law that requires them to hold lease sales with no intent of ever actually honoring those leases – daring any investor to waste their time and money. Not only is this an affront to the rule of law, it’s also a grave injustice to the Iñupiat people of the North Slope, especially the people of Kaktovik, the only village in ANWR.”

Gov. Dunleavy, who has fought multiple Biden-era policies aimed at undermining Alaska resource extraction, vowed to fight the latest assault in the courts.

Sen. Murkowski questioned the coherence of the Biden administration’s oil and gas policy.

“The NPR-A, which is explicitly designated for energy production, turns 100 this year, and we have worked for decades how to responsibly develop a very small portion of the non-wilderness 1002 Area,” she stated. “Now the Biden Administration, at a time when America and our allies need Alaska’s resources more than ever, has decided to go their own way by further locking Alaska down while refusing to consult with the Alaska Natives who actually live on the North Slope. It’s bad enough to tear up legal contracts and renege on federal commitments.”

Murkowski called the decision “unconscionable,” especially given that the Biden administration is penalizing Alaska, while allowing Iran to produce more of its oil and soliciting the same from Venezuela.

“It’s not hard to predict what will happen as they allow the world’s worst actors to enrich themselves, while punishing Alaska,” she added. “Fewer jobs at home, more imports for California, and higher prices for everyone. These decisions are illegal, reckless, defy all common sense, and are the latest signs of an incoherent energy policy from President Biden.”

Gov. Dunleavy, who has fought multiple Biden-era policies aimed at undermining Alaska resource extraction, vowed to fight the latest assault in the courts.

“It’s clear that President Biden needs a refresher on the Constitution’s separation of powers doctrine,” he said. “Federal agencies don’t get to rewrite laws, and that is exactly what the Department of the Interior is trying to do here. We will fight for Alaska’s right to develop its own resources and will be turning to the courts to correct the Biden Administration’s wrong.”

Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola was less scathing in her remarks, but did say she was “frustrated” with the decision, which will severely impact Inupiat North Slope communities.

“I will continue to advocate for them and for Alaska’s ability to explore and develop our natural resources, from the critical minerals we need for our clean energy transition to the domestic oil and gas we need to get us there,” she said. “We can only get to that transition by listening to the people on the ground. Finally, we can’t keep erasing our progress with every administration. I will continue to advocate for permitting reform that includes predictable timelines from the federal government, which must be a reliable partner in leasing and developing our resources.”

In addition to canceling current leases, the Interior Department is also moving to lock up 13 million acres in the NPR-A to limit all future oil and gas development in more than 40% of the reserve area.

Alaska Native leaders condemn cancellations:

North Slope Borough Mayor Harry Brower:

“Where is the justice and local consultation for Alaska Natives and all of our residents when the Depart of Interior and extreme environmental groups conspire to manipulate the current system and bypass even federal law that leads to costly litigation, profits for NGO’s, and our local economy further damaged? Simply put, these discriminatory and bias outcomes are unacceptable and should not be tolerated by federal regulatory agencies, such as BLM, that oversee these politically motivated decisions which now even ignore years of documented science, public meetings, and local governments our locals that rely on subsistence foods to live a healthy life.  Secretary Haaland, we can’t go to a Whole Foods store in Arlington or DC to meet our basic needs.”

Arctic Slope Regional Corporation President/CEO Rex Rock, Sr:

“Our regional leadership has tirelessly offered to work in partnership with the administration on issues affecting our region. The decisions issued today exclude the voices of the North Slope Iñupiat, causing irreparable harm to our culture and economic self-determination.”

Nagruk Harcharek, President, Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat:

“Today’s decision once again shows that the Biden administration prioritizes their agenda over the will of local Indigenous communities. By dismissing the needs and interests of the people who call this region home, they continue to impede the self-determination of the Iñupiat of the North Slope. These actions contradict local, Indigenous-led resolutions despite the administration’s ‘pledge’ to listen and work with Indigenous communities.”

Morrie Lemen, Executive Director of the Iñupiat Community of the Arctic Slope:

“The administration has continually violated its mandate to consult and work with ICAS, the region’s federally recognized Tribe. This action directly impacts the livelihoods and economic future of our tribal members. Our voices, our heritage and our connection to this land cannot be silenced or overlooked.”

Nathan Gordon Jr., Vice President, Native Village of Kaktovik:

 “How can the Secretary of Interior make a decision that has such an economic impact on our community of Kaktovik without any formal Tribal Consultation through our sovereign relationship with the federal government?  AND to do this under the name of climate change without engaging us as a Tribe is completely discriminatory. Native Village of Kaktovik has engaged on this issue at every level – we were involved in the Coastal Plain EIS and stand by the Record of Decision – you are ignoring us as a tribe. For an Administration that is focused on Indigenous Knowledge we wonder when you have talked to us about climate change in our region.  We are losing confidence in President Biden’s actions and promises to Tribal Consultation and Strengthen Nation-to-Nation Relationships and Advancing Racial Equity and Supporting Underserved Communities!  This all sounds good unless you are a tribal government that has a different stance than this Administration on what types of activities should happen in our homelands.  We are in the midst of subsistence – the timing of this announcement couldn’t be more tone deaf to the Kaktovikmiut – because our community is focused on providing our native food to sustain us through the upcoming winter.  We demand Government-to-Government consultation on how this decision was reached – we will not be muted!”

Charles Lampe, President, Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation:

“It’s difficult to express our utter shock and disappointment of Secretary Haaland’s decision today. We live in the Arctic! We are the Arctic! And for you to tell us about our region in the name of climate change is outrageous!  For an Administration that touts its focus on working with Indigenous People from our perspective it is doing the opposite.  We are a subsistence culture and are working hard to collect enough food to feed our community through whaling. We don’t have the time or energy to address this action. I can only say that as the only community within the Coastal Plain who has been fighting for the rights promised to us by Congress over 40 years ago, under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act we are astounded that Secretary Haaland has defied Congress through her actions. We are a small community that suffers as the federal winds blow and feel the Biden Administration is working to effectively erase us from the land that we have inhabited for hundreds of years.”

Annie Tikluk, Mayor, City of Kaktovik:

“We are being blindsided by this action!  Our community fought hard to get the Coastal Plain opened to oil and gas leasing. We are an economically underserved community and are continually looking for economic opportunities for our long-term sustainability.  Forty years ago, we found ourselves located in a National Wildlife Refuge against our will.  Life has been difficult for us under the Refuge management, there are too many rules and regulations for a small community like ours to adjust to.  One of the opportunities we always looked towards was the future potential of oil and gas leasing in the Coastal Plain.  The Secretary’s actions today basically goes against Congress and again takes rights away from us to manage our own lands to provide for our future.  We are appalled by this action and its timing – we are harvesting our native foods and that’s our primary focus right now. What does President Biden plan to do for our community if you take away our economic opportunities.”

Matthew Rexford, Tribal Administrator for the Village of Kaktovik:

“The government should respect sovereign rights of the local people. Our people need jobs to earn wages in order to lead a subsistence lifestyle.”

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Alaska Natives and state’s top political leaders blast Biden’s ‘incredulous’ cancelation of oil and gas leases

Joel Davidson
Joel is Editor-in-Chief of the Alaska Watchman. Joel is an award winning journalist and has been reporting for over 24 years, He is a proud father of 8 children, and lives in Palmer, Alaska.