It’s Wednesday, June 2, and the Biden administration is suspending drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland ordered a pause on oil and gas drilling leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which stretches across approximately 19 million acres in northeast Alaska, on Tuesday. The leases were issued in the final days of the Trump administration, after the former president’s three-year push to open up the area to fossil fuel interests. 

Haaland’s order says that there were “multiple legal deficiencies” with Trump’s leasing program, and she will not allow any of the issued leases to move forward until the new administration conducts “a new, comprehensive analysis of the potential environmental impacts of the oil and gas program.”

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The Gwich’in Nation, which considers the land sacred and has long fought for its preservation, celebrated Haaland’s order. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge contains the largest area of designated wilderness within the National Wildlife Refuge System and is home to caribou, polar bears, and migratory birds. 

The leasing program was on thin ice from the start: Many banks have made commitments not to finance drilling in the refuge, and only a few companies participated in the auction for leases in early January. Nevertheless, Haaland’s decision is only a temporary moratorium, and the few leases that did sell at auction could still be developed. So environmental groups are continuing their calls for a permanent ban.

Emily Pontecorvo

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