No one can accuse President Biden of breaking his promises—at least when it comes to stopping oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s Arctic. But his actions last week will only imperil the livelihoods of Alaskans and weaken national energy security.

One of Biden’s first moves in January 2021 was to pause oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), an area of Alaska’s North Slope that spans an area the size of South Carolina. As of last week, the Biden administration officially revoked seven leases in the ANWR issued to the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA), a public state corporation. The administration has also proposed to severely limit development on about 40% of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A).

Of course, protecting the climate is the primary reason for the administration’s stance against any Arctic drilling. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland claims the leases were issued with “insufficient analysis” under the National Environmental Policy Act and failed to “properly quantify downstream greenhouse gas emissions.” 

But the text of NEPA says nothing about climate. Only a proposed regulatory revision to NEPA would require federal agencies to consider climate change and “environmental justice” in their assessments. Claiming leases issued in 2021 were unlawfully awarded, based on regulations not yet formalized in 2023, is absurd.

The NPR-A was set aside in 1923 by President Warren Harding explicitly for energy production. How can it fulfill its purpose if there will be an “outright prohibition on any new leasing on 10.6 million acres,” out of a total area of 23 million acres?

The administration’s attempts to shut down Alaska’s largest industry will hurt the state’s economy, which has floundered with fluctuating oil prices and uncertainty for investment. It will also make it harder for the U.S. to generate the cheap, reliable energy that will be needed for a cleaner and lower emissions future.

While the administration claims the authority of “Indigenous Knowledge,” in its decision, it seems the communities most affected were not listened to. As Charles Lampe, President of the Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation, said in a statement: “We live in the Arctic! We are the Arctic! And for you to tell us about our region in the name of climate change is outrageous!”

Mr. Biden’s attempt to woo back preservationists after approving a scaled-back Willow oil project earlier this year is transparent at best. At its worst, it reinforces the message that the preservationist’s zero-sum game is the only way to care for the environment.

Alaskans know that developing their resources responsibly and conserving the beautiful and rugged places that make the state special are not incompatible. And Alaskans certainly don’t need the federal government and environmental activists to tell them how to be responsible stewards.

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) plans to challenge the cancellations of its leases. But another tug-of-war over the state’s resources will inevitably harm Alaska’s economy and drive up the cost of reliable energy.