Biden Thwarts Trump And Blocks Mining Road, Oil Drilling In Alaska

President Joe Biden’s administration on Friday safeguarded millions of acres in Alaska from fossil fuel drilling and mining — the latest in a frenzy of environmental actions in recent weeks that have drawn praise from green groups and condemnation from industry and Republican lawmakers.

The Interior Department finalized a rule that bars oil and gas development across more than 13 million acres of the National Petroleum Reserve on Alaska’s North Slope. Established in 1923, the 23 million-acre reserve is the largest tract of federal land in the country and home to vast oil and gas deposits.

Interior also moved to block construction of the Ambler Road, a proposed 211-mile mining road that would have cut through a portion of Alaska’s pristine Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve to access billions of dollars’ worth of copper deposits.

Both actions ultimately reverse decisions from Donald Trump’s presidency.

“Today’s announcements underscore our commitment to ensure that places too special to develop remain intact for the communities and species that rely on them,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement. “There is no question, using the best available science and incorporating Indigenous knowledge practiced over millennia, that these decisions will help biological, cultural, historic and subsistence resources, safeguarding the way of life for the Indigenous people who have called this special place home since time immemorial.”

A river snakes near Alaska's Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve.
A river snakes near Alaska's Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post via Getty Images

At a press conference Thursday, Republican lawmakers, including Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, condemned the upcoming actions and what they described as Biden’s “energy insecurity” agenda.

“He is destabilizing our security as a nation in a way that most didn’t think possible in such a short time period,” Murkowski said. 

“It’s more than a one-two punch to Alaska,” she added. “When you take off access to our resources, when you say you cannot drill, you cannot produce, you cannot explore, you cannot move it, this is the energy insecurity that we’re talking about. Because we’re still going to need the germanium, the gallium, the copper. We’re still going to need the oil. But we’re just not going to get it from Alaska. We’re just not going to get it from the United States.” 

Biden said that Alaskan landscapes “demand our protection.” 

“I am proud that my Administration is taking action to conserve more than 13 million acres in the Western Arctic and to honor the culture, history, and enduring wisdom of Alaska Natives who have lived on and stewarded these lands since time immemorial,” he said in a statement. “From safeguarding sacred lands near the Grand Canyon to protecting Alaskan treasures, my Administration has conserved more than 41 million acres of lands and waters.”

Conservation and climate advocacy groups hailed the decisions. 

“When taken together, these regulations constitute a comprehensive shift toward a more holistic conservation, climate and community-centric approach to managing public lands,” Meda DeWitt, the interim Alaska state director of The Wilderness Society, said in a statement.