US suspends oil drilling in Alaska’s Arctic refuge

Biden administration reverses Trump-era programme in state’s wildlife refuge

The Biden administration has announced it will pause drilling in an Arctic region of Alaska pending an environmental review, reversing a key initiative of the Trump presidency.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a remote area of Alaska which is home to polar bears, wolves and other wildlife. But it is also sits over vast supplies of oil, which prompted President Donald Trump to sell drilling rights in the region.

The Trump administration held a lease sale in the final days of Mr Trump's presidency. On coming into office, Mr Biden directed the department of the interior to review oil and gas activity in the region. This week interior secretary Deb Haaland announced the suspension of all activity relating to leasing, while an environmental analysis and legal review of Mr Trump's action is undertaken.

Welcoming the decision, White House national climate adviser Gina McCarthy said: “President Biden believes America’s national treasures are cultural and economic cornerstones of our country.”


She added: “He is grateful for the prompt action by the department of the interior to suspend all leasing pending a review of decisions made in the last administration’s final days that could have changed the character of this special place forever.”


The status of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has long been a contentious issue. Republicans have pressed for years for the area to be opened up to mineral extraction.

Alaskan Republicans reacted with fury to the decision, claiming that it will negatively impact the state's economy. Republican governor Mike Dunleavy accused the government of federal overreach and described the decision as an "assault on Alaska's economy".

Lisa Murkowski, a moderate Republican who has voted with Democrats on issues in the past, denounced the move. "The Biden administration's actions are not unexpected but are outrageous nonetheless," she said, noting that the leasing plan had environmental safeguards in place.

“This action serves no purpose other than to obstruct Alaska’s economy and put our energy security at great risk. Alaskans are committed to developing our resources responsibly and have demonstrated our ability to do so safely to the world.”

Meanwhile, Democrat Melanie Stansbury has won the congressional seat in New Mexico vacated by Ms Haaland when she was appointed as secretary of the interior by Mr Biden.

Ms Haaland made history this year by becoming the first Native American cabinet secretary. Among the department’s responsibilities is oversight of provisions for the Native American and Alaskan native communities.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent