NPR-A plan review
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BLM assessing if the plan meets Biden administration environmental policy
for Petroleum News
The Department of the Interior has issued a memorandum stating that it has instructed the Bureau of Land Management to re-evaluate the current NPR-A integrated activity plan and its associated environmental impact statement. The documents in question were approved by the Trump administration at the end of December 2020. The memorandum, dated Sept. 7, appeared in conjunction with a court filing in one of two appeals in the federal District Court in Alaska challenging the legality of the IAP. The court cases have both been stayed while the DOI staff of the Biden administration review the IAP.
The IAP in question sets the current rules for what land within the NPR-A can be included within oil and gas lease sales. When issued, the IAP increased the land area available for leasing from 11,763,000 acres to 18,581,000 acres relative to the previous IAP. Land newly opened for leasing included land within the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area, an area that includes important breeding grounds for waterfowl and that supports Arctic wildlife such as caribou. The IAP also, in effect, eliminated the Colville River Special Area. Proponents of oil development argue that the use of modern technologies such as extended reach directional drilling significantly reduce environmental impacts and that development can take place safely and with minimal environmental disturbance. Environmental organizations vehemently disagree.
Biden executive orderOn Jan. 20 President Joe Biden issued an executive order for “protecting public health and the environment and restoring science to tackle the climate crisis,” DOI wrote. The order, which set broad environmental policies for the federal administration, directed all federal agencies to review all agency actions promulgated, issued or adopted between Jan. 20, 2017, and Jan. 20, 2021, to identify any actions that may be inconsistent with the new policy. Agencies must consider whether any additional actions are needed to fully enforce the policy.
DOI says that it has not yet decided whether to withdraw or replace the NPR-A IAP, but that its initial assessment indicates that the IAP is inconsistent with the policy position set out in the January executive order. The court memo says that the department believes that other alternatives may better serve the administration’s policy.
Plan evaluationConsequently, DOI has directed BLM to evaluate the IPA and its associated EIS, to determine whether they “remain adequate” under the National Environmental Policy Act, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act and the Endangered Species Act. The purpose of this evaluation is for BLM to potentially adopt an alternative to the IAP and EIS approved in 2020, the memo says.
DOI requires BLM within 120 days to “provide the status of its evaluation and related actions.” Meanwhile, during this period, BLM must not offer in oil and gas lease sales any tracts that were newly opened for leasing in the 2020 record of decision for the current IAP.