Alaska state-owned agency sues over Arctic refuge leases

A river and mountains.
The Canning River forms the northwestern border of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (Lisa Hupp/USFWS)

An Alaska state corporation that was the main bidder in an oil and gas lease sale in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge earlier this year said it is suing federal officials over what it calls improper actions that are preventing lease activities.

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority alleges federal officials overstepped in suspending lease-related activities, among other actions. The lease program advanced under then-President Donald Trump. The lease sale was held in January, shortly before President Joe Biden took office.

Tyler Cherry, an Interior Department spokesperson, said Thursday the agency did not have a comment.

Alaska political leaders, including Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy and the Republican congressional delegation, have supported opening the coastal plain of the refuge to development, and a federal law passed in 2017 called for lease sales. Drilling supporters have characterized development as a way to boost oil production, generate revenue and create or sustain jobs.

RELATED: House version of Biden’s $1.75 trillion bill would cancel drilling leases in Arctic Refuge

But critics have argued the area, which provides habitat for wildlife including caribou, polar bears and birds, should be off limits to drilling, and some would like to see the provisions of law calling for lease sales repealed. The Indigenous Gwich’in consider the coastal plain sacred and have expressed concern about impacts to a caribou herd they rely on for subsistence.

An executive order from Biden earlier this year called for a temporary moratorium on activities related to the leasing program and for the Interior secretary to review the program and “as appropriate and consistent with applicable law,” conduct a new environmental review.

In June, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said her review had found “multiple legal deficiencies” in the record supporting the leases, including an environmental review that failed to “adequately analyze a reasonable range of alternatives.” She directed a temporary halt on department activities related to the leasing program until a new review was done.

Interior Department official Laura Daniel-Davis, in a letter to the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, said the additional environmental review would be undertaken to “determine whether the leases should be reaffirmed, voided or subject to additional mitigation measures.”

The corporation alleges federal officials “have engaged in a politically driven, systematic campaign to prevent any Coastal Plain development.”

The lawsuit filed Thursday lists as defendants Biden, Haaland and Interior Department officials.

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