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Editorial: Make Arctic refuge drilling ban permanent

Biden suspends oil leases in Alaska's Arctic refuge (copy)

A herd of caribou roams the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska. The Biden administration is suspending oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as it reviews the environmental impacts of drilling in the remote region. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via AP

The Biden administration’s decision Tuesday to suspend oil drilling leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was a welcome first step toward unwinding some of the environmental threats of the past four years.

The administration must strengthen that action by fully and permanently halting any drilling in one of America’s last remaining untouched wildernesses, which is home to polar bears and other wildlife. An environmental analysis and a legal review by the U.S. Department of Interior should provide the evidence needed to stop the ill-considered lease deals that were rushed through in the final weeks of the Trump administration, despite the issue being tied up in court.

U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, along with the rest of our congressional delegation, should use their influence to help slam the door shut on the awful drilling plan.

President Joe Biden was rightly criticized last month for defending a Trump administration plan for drilling elsewhere in Alaska and supporting a decision to open up public lands in Wyoming to oil and gas drilling.

One of those, the massive Conoco

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Phillips Willow Project on the north shore of Alaska, would create nearly 260 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions over its lifetime, about the equivalent of what 66 coal-fired power plants would produce, according to Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune. Environmental advocates also fear the project would divert the migration of caribou, impacting local communities’ ability to provide food for their families. Mr. Brune warned that the project, which would include 250 wells, a processing facility, hundreds of miles of pipelines and roads, and an airstrip, could impact polar bears, fish and other vulnerable species, and change Alaska’s pristine northern reaches forever.

The administration should take another look at this arrangement and others with an eye toward being consistent in regards to protecting sensitive areas.

It’s important to note that such decisions can be undone by future administrations, but the increased emphasis on renewable energy now should lead to less reliance on environmentally harmful fossil fuels in the years to come. That could make this pause in drilling an important event in stopping such action.

Mr. Trump’s decision to support Arctic drilling was as rash as his plan to open the Atlantic Coast to oil exploration and drilling in the face of strong community opposition. There is no upside to risky drilling.

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