As Democrats take control of the U.S. Senate and House, lawmakers introduced legislation on Thursday to permanently protect the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil drilling by declaring it a wilderness area.
Sen. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, Rep. Jared Huffman, D-California and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pennsylvania, introduced the legislation weeks after the former Trump administration held the government’s first-ever oil lease sale in the refuge’s 1.6-million-acre coastal plain.
The administration issued leases to three small entities, primarily the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, a state agency. AIDEA said it planned to hold the leases for possible future development if private partners express interest.
Democratic President Joe Biden, on his first day in office, issued an order temporarily halting oil and gas activity in the 19-million-acre refuge in northeast Alaska. He has said he hopes to permanently protect the refuge. Major banks also have vowed not to finance oil and gas projects there.
Republicans held sway in 2017 when Congress approved drilling in the refuge after decades of attempts by Alaska’s congressional delegation, and Republican President Donald Trump signed the provision into law.
Huffman has said Alaska Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan need to meet with Democrats to discuss how Alaska can receive value from the federal government for the potential state revenue that will be lost if oil development in the refuge is banned.
Murkowski, Sullivan and Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young have said they will fight to maintain the oil leasing program in the refuge.