JUNEAU, Alaska – The United States Bureau of Land Management is expected to reassess a Trump-era environmental review that provided a basis for plans to open an additional 6.8 million acres in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska in leasing of oil and gas.
A note outlining the planned review accompanied government filings in lawsuits filed by conservation and environmental groups. These lawsuits have challenged the adequacy of the environmental scan underpinning the plans that were finalized in the last few weeks of the Trump administration.
Lawyers for the US Department of Justice on Tuesday requested suspensions in the cases pending the new assessment.
The note, dated Friday, was from Laura Daniel-Davis, senior assistant secretary for land and minerals management for the Home Office. She said she was leading the land management agency to assess the environmental review and related analyzes.
She wrote that the ministry had not yet decided to “withdraw or replace” the 2020 plan. But she said the ministry’s initial assessment was that it was “inconsistent” with policy set out in an executive order. January of President Joe Biden.
Biden’s order lists such things as protecting the environment and reducing greenhouse gas emissions as administrative policy.
Daniel-Davis’s memo does not go into detail on areas deemed problematic by the ministry, but describes the 2020 plan as containing provisions that “reduce environmental protections in favor of promoting oil and gas development.”
Daniel-Davis said the Bureau of Land Management should not offer leases in areas that would be newly opened as part of the Trump-era plan while the assessment was underway.
She said the agency would provide the status of its review and “related actions” within 120 days of the date of the note.
The Home Office “is committed to protecting public health, conserving land, water and wildlife, and ensuring that the management of our public lands and oceans is guided by science, equity and community engagement, ”spokesman Tyler Cherry said in a written statement.
The announced review is in line with Biden’s directive to “review and address regulations and agency programs that conflict with this administration’s climate priorities,” the statement said.
On December 31, then Home Secretary David Bernhardt finalized a decision that made about 18.6 million of the estimated 23 million acres of the reserve available for oil and gas rentals, according to the Bureau of Land Management. The land agency, announcing the decision, said the plan contained “important safeguards for sensitive wildlife and resources, while allowing responsible leasing of oil and gas.”
Suzanne Bostrom, an attorney with Trustees for Alaska who represents some of the groups in the litigation, said Wednesday that she viewed as encouraging the department’s intention to revisit Trump-era plans.
Environmentalists, among others, have raised concerns about the possible impacts of development on the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area, which they described as a complex of productive wetlands and caribou calving grounds.
Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who has been at odds with the Biden administration on some oil, gas and forestry issues, called the planned review a “politically motivated blow” on Wednesday in a social media post. .