Records Reveal Biden Administration Budget Officials Questioned Legal Authority to Cancel ANWR Lease Sale


| May 3, 2024


Budget officials from the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) questioned the legal authority the Biden Administration used to cancel the 2021 oil and gas lease sale in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) according to records obtained by Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFPF) and cited by Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) in a letter to DOI Secretary Haaland today.

The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act requires the DOI to conduct two oil and gas lease sales in Alaska’s ANWR, but the Biden Administration unlawfully cancelled the 2021 lease sale late last year. The text of the law clearly mandates the lease sale, so DOI’s claim that the law required the agency to unwind the sale and cancel the leases confused even their own employees.

After the cancellation announcement, at least one official from DOI’s Office of Budget emailed the Bureau of Land Management with numerous questions about the legal authority and budgetary impacts, including some passed along from OMB. Remarkably, the official cast doubt on whether agency lawyers signed off on the cancellation.

The budget official asked, “how was the 2021 lease sale in violation of…the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017?” His skepticism is warranted. DOI still has not identified any plausible legal authority for the cancellation.

The email also notes that President Biden’s budget “reflects ANWR revenues,” but DOI has not released any information explaining how much revenue is lost, nor has it revealed the impact of the lost revenue from the cancellation to state, local, or tribal interests.

AFPF also obtained talking points provided for DOI Secretary Haaland’s September 2023 trip to Ottawa brazenly suggesting DOI will not conduct the 2024 lease sale as required by law:

Senator Sullivan’s letter presses DOI Secretary Haaland to answer questions raised by these records, including:

  • How does the cancellation of the 2021 lease sale, and likely cancellation of the 2024 lease sale, affect the President’s budget now and in the future?
  • How is the cancellation of the 2021 lease sale, and likely cancellation of the 2024 lease sale, in compliance with the mandate from Congress to hold these lease sales? What federal statute does DOI believe gives it authority to not go forward with the lease sales?
  • Is there any scenario where DOI, BLM, and the FWS allow the 2024 ANWR lease sale to complete and result in oil and gas development within the Coastal Plain? What factors would have to be met?

The letter closes by urging DOI, FWS, and BLM to “reverse course, follow the law, honor the 2021 lease sale, and faithfully conduct the 2024 lease sale.” Senator Sullivan is right. The cancellation of lease sales in ANWR is both unlawful and harmful to our energy security.

DOI Office of the Secretary

Fish and Wildlife Service

Bureau of Land Management

Read the complaint and FOIA requests: