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The Biden administration has announced restrictions on oil and gas leasing on more than 13 million acres of an Alaskan petroleum reserve to conserve land valuable to the “Alaska Native people” and “important fish and wildlife,” as Republican lawmakers protest the “illegal” move.

The U.S. Department of the Interior, led by Biden appointee Secretary Deb Haaland, celebrated the restrictions on Friday, saying, “These steps follow President Biden’s actions to protect millions of acres of lands and waters in the Arctic.”

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“Following significant engagement with the public, Alaska Native Tribes, and Alaska Native Corporations, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) finalized the Management and Protection of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A) rule that will ensure maximum protection for significant resource values on the more than 13 million acres of Special Areas in the western Arctic, while supporting subsistence uses and needs for Alaska Native communities,” the federal agency stated.

The new rules won’t impact current leases on the NPR-A, which is owned by the federal government. Projects that have already been authorized, including the controversial Willow Project, will still be able to occur. 

Haaland said the restrictions underscore the Biden administration’s “commitment to ensure that places too special to develop remain intact for the communities and species that rely on them.”

U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland testifies during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources hearing on May 2, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

She went on to credit “science” as well as “Indigenous Knowledge practiced over millennia” as factors in her department’s decision-making process. 

John Podesta, Biden’s clean energy czar, also praised the decision for protecting native Alaskans. 

“Today’s historic actions to protect lands and waters in the western Arctic will ensure continued subsistence use by Alaska Native communities while conserving these special places for future generations,” Podesta said. “With these new announcements, the Biden-Harris administration has now protected more than 41 million acres of lands and waters across the country, leaving a huge mark on the history of American conservation.” 

John Podesta (Sarah Silbiger / Bloomberg via Getty)

John Podesta, senior adviser to the president for clean energy innovation, speaks during a news conference at the White House in Washington, DC, on August 16, 2023. (Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The move was also celebrated by climate-activist Democrat lawmakers, with Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) calling it a win for wildlife and the “Indigenous people who have stewarded these lands for generations.”

Alaska Republicans, meanwhile, have been speaking out against the administration. 

A group of lawmakers, headed by Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK), made a statement ahead of the Interior Department’s announcement, with Sullivan calling it an “illegal” attack on the state’s oil and gas industry.

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