Great news for the Arctic Refuge . Biden takes first step toward protection
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Bernie meme with great news for the Arctic Refuge

Great news for the Arctic Refuge

Right after the Inauguration, President Biden signed an executive order directing the incoming secretary of the Interior Department to review the entire Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil and gas leasing program and temporarily halt all activities related to it.

Bernie meme with great news for the Arctic Refuge
Great news for the Arctic. (Bernie meme by ARDC)

This is great news for human rights, climate action, and the enduring health of Arctic lands, waters, animals, and communities.

The order titled, “Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis,” calls for a review of the adopted program’s legal deficiencies, including the possibility of a new and comprehensive analysis of the potential impacts of oil and gas activities.

The lawsuit we filed on behalf of the Gwich’in Steering Committee and 12 allied groups in August outlines these legal deficiencies.

We hope this strong, day-one action by President Biden will be the first of many leading toward permanent protections for the Arctic Refuge.

Pause, rewind

A lease sale of sacred lands in the Arctic Refuge happened the same day as the Jan. 6 Capitol siege. 

The sale understandably got little attention after the violent attempt to undermine the election process, but it clearly shows what happens when powerful people push for something that people don’t want and the nation doesn’t need. Here are a few quick takeaways:

  • There were zero bids and zero interest from major or medium-sized oil and gas companies.
  • The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority—a public corporation of the state of Alaska that itself is a funding mechanism, not an operator—made the most bids, all of them the lowest bids allowed ($25/acre).
  • AIDEA and two small outfits only leased nine of the 22 tracks offered.
  • The sale generated barely half a percent of the revenues projected by the 2017 Tax act (0.67%).
Caribou health requires protection of the Arctic Refuge.
The Porcupine caribou herd in the coastal plain. Photo by USFWS.

That’s right. The sale which was supposed to generate billions and save Alaska’s economy generated a pittance, even as it sold off human rights, public health, wildlife habitat, and climate health.

In short, the lease sale was an embarrassing yard sale notable for the low number of low-bids, and for its complete disregard of the harm done by selling off something sacred and vital to the health of animals and people.  It further demonstrated a complete lack of leadership by the out-going administration in the face of the climate crisis, and the predicted inability of the leasing program to live up to even to its own pie-in-the-sky revenue promises.

The lease sale process poses serious questions about corrupt agency processes and actions leading up to it, and the assumptions made about whose voices matter when making decisions about public lands, sacred lands, and Indigenous homelands.

Pause, fast forward

With a new federal administration still in transition, a state administration clinging to a singular exploitive economic sector rather than transitioning to a sustainable, equitable future, and a lawsuit still making its way through the courts, there are many unknowns about what’s next.

What we can say is that the Arctic Refuge has new advocates, and they’re in the White House!