Energy & Environment

Trump takes major step toward Alaska wildlife refuge drilling opposed by Biden

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The Trump administration is advancing oil exploration Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in a move critics see as an attempt to lock in drilling before President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January.

The Bureau of Land Management’s Alaska state office on Tuesday will publish a “call for nominations” seeking input on which pieces of land should be leased for drilling.

The call describes an “upcoming Coastal Plain (CP) Oil and Gas Lease Sale” although it does not specify when the sale will take place.

Environmentalists argue the Trump administration is trying to rush through lease sales that are opposed by Biden, making it harder for him to reverse drilling plans there after he takes office.

The federal government is slated to hold a lease sale in ANWR by Dec. 22, 2021, and another by Dec. 22, 2024, under a provision in Trump’s 2017 tax law.

However, Biden has pledged to “permanently protect” ANWR and has also said his administration won’t allow new permits for oil and gas drilling on public lands and in public waters in general. 

Bloomberg first reported on Friday that the call for nominations would occur. 

Earlier this year the Trump administration finalized the decision to open up the entire 1.56 million acre coastal plain area to leasing. 

This was praised by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt as an opportunity that could “create thousands of new jobs and generate tens of billions of dollars.”

However, opponents have raised concerns that drilling could  harm animal species that are found there, negatively affect the landscape, exacerbate climate change and negatively impact the Gwich’in people who hunt caribou there. 

ANWR is home to a number of species, including grizzly bears, polar bears, gray wolves, and more than 200 species of birds. 

The call follows another recent step by the administration to advance drilling. Last month it proposed a plan for the Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation to test for oil deposits there starting as soon as December. 

Internal government documents recently obtained by The Center for Biological Diversity also show that approving drilling at ANWR was one of dozens of projects that moved forward with reduced environmental scrutiny amid a June order from President Trump seeking to help the economy during the pandemic. 

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