Biden announces Arctic protections, but drilling decision looms

Mar 13, 2023

On Sunday, the Interior department announced that it is using executive action to protect millions of acres of land and ocean in the Arctic. President Biden is withdrawing 2.8 million acres in the Beaufort Sea from future oil and gas leasing. When combined with previous protections put in place by the Obama administration, this would put the Arctic Ocean entirely off-limits to new leasing. The Interior department is also initiating a rulemaking process to protect more than 13 million acres of the land in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, the largest contiguous area of public lands in the US. The proposed rules, which the department says will be available in the coming months, would limit future oil and gas leasing in designated Special Areas within the NPR-A. While limiting future leasing is important, most areas of interest to oil and gas companies have already been leased, recent lease sales have drawn scant interest, and several companies have abandoned plans to pursue development in the area.

This proposed rule, along with others such as those related to reforms to the oil and gas program, must be released by April of this year to give the administration time to complete the rulemaking process before any final rules are subject to review under the Congressional Review Act.

Meanwhile, the Interior department is also expected to issue its decision on the Willow oil and gas project. Since ConocoPhillips already holds leases for the area, the project will not be impacted by any proposed new protections. According to reports, the department is planning to approve three of the five drilling sites ConocoPhillips had sought approval for, the minimum ConocoPhillips had indicated would need to be approved for the proposal to be economically viable. The project, which could begin construction within days of approval and comprise about 200 wells, has the potential to release an amount of carbon equivalent to adding two million cars per year over the roughly 30 years of the project. The International Energy Agency has found that approval of any new fossil fuel development is incompatible with the scientifically-supported goal of keeping global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.

It’s been over 100 days since Biden promised to protect Avi Kwa Ame

It’s been over 100 days since President Joe Biden promised he would protect a large swath of Mojave Desert in southern Nevada called Avi Kwa Ame that is sacred to multiple tribes, including the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe and the Hopi Tribe. “I’m committed to protecting this sacred place that’s central to the creation story of so many tribes here today,” Biden told Tribal leaders at the White House Tribal Nations Summit last November. The Nevada Independent reported last Tuesday that Biden planned to designate the monument on a fundraising trip to Las Vegas this week but retracted that report after receiving new information. As a new blog from the Center for Western Priorities points out, every day that passes without protections for Avi Kwa Ame undercuts the Biden administration’s promise to prioritize the protection of public lands and honor Tribal nations.

To learn more about Avi Kwa Ame, watch the Center for Western Priorities short film, part of our Road to 30: Postcards series, and for an up-to-the-second clock counting the time since Biden promised to protect Avi Kwa Ame, see the top of the Center for Western Priorities website.

Quick hits

Biden administration to approve massive Alaska oil project

New York Times | Washington Post | Politico | E&E News

Why Big Oil is less worried about Biden phasing out fossil fuels

Washington Post

Manchin vows to block Biden’s nominee to oversee oil and gas leasing

Associated Press | E&E News | Center for Western Priorities [statement]

Climate action plan envisions transforming Tucson’s way of life

Arizona Daily Star

Joshua trees rejected for Endangered Species Act protection

Palm Springs Desert Sun

Idaho uses ‘smoke and mirrors’ to count wolves, critics say

Idaho Statesman

Opinion: Will the future of Alaska’s wild lands hang on a dispute over a gravel road?

New York Times

Where the spirit dwells: The wonders of Avi Kwa Ame

Las Vegas Review-Journal

Quote of the day

”If the Biden administration is serious about their commitments to address the climate and nature crises, it’s imperative that the president double down on durable, meaningful action.”

—Jennifer Rokala, Center for Western Priorities Executive Director, Politico

Picture this

Desert sunrise with red sandstone and plants in the foreground, distant rock formations in the background

So long to our Utah and Navajo Nation friends and neighbors! You have traveled forward an hour in time, and we won’t be able to sync back up with you until November! 🕑🕒

Planning a Glen Canyon trip soon? You might want to double-check what time it is. The state of Arizona does not observe Daylight Saving Time, so our clocks did not change. The Navajo Nation, which touches our southeast border, and Utah (most of our park’s land mass) follow Daylight Saving time. Since Glen Canyon is headquartered in Page AZ, the park officially operates on Arizona time. This may bring some confusion as you approach the Utah or Navajo Nation borders.

Those of us who live in Page often have to hard-set our phones to AZ time since the proximity to the borders makes our automatic clocks flicker back and forth. Also, some local businesses might use local time. Check for operating hours of the facilities in the park and to see what time it is where you are.

📷: NPS. Sunrise over Navajo Mountain and Glen Canyon, Feb 2023. If this picture had been taken today, that sunrise would be an hour later. #WhatTimeIsIt #YourParkStory #GlenCanyonNPS #DaylightSaving #TimeIsAConstruct #ItsComplicated

(featured image: National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, Bureau of Land Management)