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Interior secretary revokes Trump-era orders on energy, including one intended to boost drilling in NPR-A

A northern section of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska on the state's North Slope. (Anne Raup / ADN archive 1997)

WASHINGTON — Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on Friday revoked a series of Trump administration orders that promoted fossil fuel development on public lands and waters, and issued a separate directive that prioritizes climate change in agency decisions.

The moves are part of a government-wide effort by the Biden administration to address climate change ahead of a virtual global summit on climate change that President Joe Biden is hosting next week.

“From day one, President Biden was clear that we must take a whole-of-government approach to tackle the climate crisis, strengthen the economy and address environmental justice,” Haaland said in a statement. The new orders will “make our communities more resilient to climate change and ... help lead the transition to a clean energy economy,” she added.

The orders revoke Trump-era directives that boosted coal, oil and gas leasing on federal lands and promoted what Trump called “energy dominance” in the United States. Haaland also rescinded a Trump administration order intended to increase oil drilling in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke signed the order on the Indiana-sized reserve in 2017 in Anchorage at a conference hosted by the state’s major oil industry group, the Alaska Oil and Gas Association. At the time, he declared that the path to U.S. energy dominance is “a path through the great state of Alaska.”

Zinke’s order led to a revision of an Obama-era plan for the reserve. In its final days, the Trump administration finalized a new plan that dramatically increased the land available for oil and gas drilling. But the move faces legal challenges from groups concerned about threats to polar bears, caribou, migratory birds, climate change and subsistence resources.

Zinke’s order also called for an updated report of the oil potential on the North Slope that included a focus on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska. The assessment of the refuge’s oil was not completed under the Trump administration.

Haaland called the orders by her predecessors, Zinke and David Bernhardt, “inconsistent with the department’s commitment to protect public health; conserve land, water, and wildlife; and elevate science.”

Collectively, the previous orders “tilted the balance of public land and ocean management without regard for climate change, equity or community engagement,” Haaland said.

The new orders do not affect Interior’s ongoing review of proposals for oil, gas, coal and renewable energy development on public lands and waters, she said.

Environmental groups heralded the orders and pledged to work with Haaland to ensure Interior Department decisions are guided by science and respect for Indigenous communities, wildlife, outdoor recreation and other uses.

More than 25% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions originate on public lands, and Interior has “unrivaled opportunities to restore natural carbon sinks, responsibly deploy clean energy and reduce existing emissions,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation.

“Rescinding the previous administration’s orders that encouraged unfettered drilling in ecologically and culturally sensitive areas and establishing a climate task force will help ensure wise management of our natural resources for people and wildlife alike,” O’Mara said.

One of the orders issued by Haaland cancels a 2017 action that revoked a moratorium on federal coal reserve sales that had been imposed under President Barack Obama to deal with climate change.

Agency spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz said Friday’s move does not automatically resurrect the coal moratorium. “Today’s announcement does not take any action on coal development. We are continuing to review an appropriate path going forward,” she said.

The coal moratorium brought a sharp backlash by Republicans, who said it was evidence of a “war on coal” by Obama and other Democrats. The moratorium had little practical effect, however, since interest among companies in leasing large tracts of federal land dried up when coal markets collapsed over the last decade amid competition with cheaper natural gas.

The American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry’s top lobbying group, warned that policies aimed at slowing or stopping oil and natural gas production on federal lands and waters could harm national security, environmental progress and the economy.

“Banning or greatly hindering federal leasing ... would threaten decades of American energy and climate progress and return us to greater reliance on foreign energy with lower environmental standards,” said Kevin O’Scannlain, an API vice president.

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The Daily News’ Alex DeMarban and Associated Press writer Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana, contributed to this story.

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