The U.S. Interior Department said it would cancel oil and gas leases in a federal wildlife refuge that were bought by an Alaska state development agency in the final days of former President Donald Trump's term.

President Joe Biden, a Democrat, has pledged to protect the 19.6 million-acre (7.9 million-hectare) Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for polar bears and caribou.

"As the climate crisis warms the Arctic more than twice as fast as the rest of the world, we have a responsibility to protect this treasured region for all ages," he said in a statement.


Trump's Republican administration had issued the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) seven leases a day before Biden's inauguration.

Environmentalists praised the decision but it was lambasted by a Republican Senator from Alaska, where officials have sought to open up drilling in the reserve to secure jobs and revenues for the state.

The government also said it would forbid new leasing on more than 10 million acres in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, a 23 million-acre area on the state's North Slope that is the largest undisturbed public land in the United States.

The actions are the latest effort by Biden to rein in oil and gas activities on public lands, part of a broader agenda to combat climate change.

Biden, who is gearing up to run for re-election in 2024, possibly against Trump, also faces pressure to boost domestic fuel supplies to keep pump prices low. Earlier this year, the government approved a $7 billion ConocoPhillips drilling project in Alaska that drew criticism from the United Nations, which has urged member countries to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels.

AIDEA said it would challenge the cancellation of the leases in court.

"This latest action by the Department of the Interior shows arbitrary disregard for Federal law, based on campaign trail rhetoric," AIDEA said in a statement. "Campaign promises are not enough to justify this agency action."

The Interior Department said a new environmental review had determined that the analysis that underlies the agency's 2021 lease sale was "seriously flawed," giving Secretary Deb Haaland authority to cancel the leases.