ANCHORAGE, Alaska (CN) — The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority filed a lawsuit against President Joe Biden, Secretary of the Department of the Interior Deb Haaland, and other members of the Biden administration on Thursday, stating that recent actions to obstruct and delay the development of valid oil and gas leases in the non-wilderness Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are unlawful.
The Alaska agency won the right to bid on leases to pursue oil drilling in the Arctic Refuge during the last days of the Trump administration when a federal judge denied any injunctive relief efforts by environmental groups to stop the first-ever oil and gas sale in the area.
President Biden issued an executive order on his first day in office placing a temporary moratorium on development in the refuge. He then halted exploration and drilling on those leases in June, citing multiple legal deficiencies in the oil and gas leasing program under his predecessor’s administration and the need for an environmental review. In August, the U.S. Interior Department announced it would review the program and that the process would likely take more than a year.
In the 32-page lawsuit AIDEA argues that the Biden administration violated federal laws, including the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 that opened the door for the lease sale. The state agency won seven, 10-year leases to pursue development on tracts totaling about 370,000 acres in the 19-million-acre refuge in the January sale.
“Defendants have defied a direct congressional mandate to facilitate development of oil and gas resources on the coastal plain of Alaska,” the state agency alleges in the complaint. “Rather than follow the law and the science, defendants have engaged in a politically driven, systematic campaign to prevent any Coastal Plain development.”
Since the lease sale, AIDEA wrote in a statement, that it has already begun taking administrative steps toward planning for oil development in the region, although it has not yet received the necessary federal permits to carry out exploration.
“AIDEA, Alaska, and Alaskans are due the full potential benefit of those leases and we will fight the federal government in court to keep its promises,” Executive Director Alan Weitzner said in the statement.
“Alaska has been promised the right to drill in the refuge. Delaying the leases puts Alaska’s oil-based economy at risk,” Weitzner also stated.
AIDEA’s press statement also includes remarks from Alaska Republican Governor Mike Dunleavy who supports drilling in the Arctic Refuge.
“The Biden Administration’s brazen attempt to try to strip away valid and legally-acquired oil and gas exploration leases in [the Arctic Refuge] is just one more example of an administration with little to no regard for the rule of law, or any understanding of how the nation’s energy infrastructure actually works,” Dunleavy said.
“The 1002 Area was specifically set aside by the United States Congress for exploration and development. The benefits of environmentally safe development will be family-supporting jobs and a secure supply of domestically produced energy. AIDEA is well within its rights to take the President and his staff to court over their unlawful actions," he added.
Attorneys with Anchorage based Holland & Hart LLP specify seven violations of AIDEA’s valid and enforceable leases acquired during the BLM’s 2020 lease sale in lawsuit. These include Executive Order 13990, Secretarial Order 3401, and the subsequent actions of DOI to obstruct and delay Congress’s mandate to facilitate development of the Coastal Plain’s oil and gas resources under the Administrative Procedures Act, Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017 and Federal Land Policy and Management Act.
AIDEA studies predict that exploration, development, and production could generate 1,430 direct jobs and 6,350 indirect jobs annually and 2,480 direct jobs and 10,100 indirect jobs at peak employment within Alaska, according to its statement.
The federal government has estimated the coastal plain could contain billions of barrels of oil. The January lease sale contained no bids from major oil and gas companies. Several major banks have said they would not financially back any new oil development in the Arctic.
U.S. Interior Department Interior officials cited department policy to not comment on pending litigation.
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