The Trump administration is planning to lease land to oil and gas developers at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska before President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenManchin to vote to nix Biden's vaccine mandate for larger businesses Congress averts shutdown after vaccine mandate fight Senate cuts deal to clear government funding bill MORE, who opposes drilling there, takes office in January.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) said in a statement Thursday that it expects to conduct the sale on Jan. 6 via video.
A notice announcing the sale is expected to be published in the Federal Register next week.
“Oil and gas from the Coastal Plain is an important resource for meeting our Nation’s long-term energy demands and will help create jobs and economic opportunities,” BLM Alaska State Director Chad Padgett said in a statement.
Drilling at the refuge is controversial, as opponents have raised concerns that it could harm animal species found there, negatively effect the landscape and negatively impact the Gwich’in people who hunt caribou there.
ANWR is home to grizzly bears, polar bears, gray wolves and more than 200 species of birds.
On the campaign trail, Biden pledged to "permanently" protect the refuge even though he's likely to be bound by a 2017 law requiring one lease sale there by the end of December 2021 and another by the end of 2024.
Although it would be difficult for Biden to avoid holding the lease sale entirely, by holding the sale before he takes office, the Trump administration may be undercutting some of the legal tools the president-elect has to limit drilling there.
Specifically, it prevents the incoming administration from deciding what land is sold and from setting terms on the leases.
However, avenues still remain for Biden to set some restrictions because lessees will still need to apply for drilling permits, triggering more environmental studies, which could justify limitations.
And the administration's August decision to open up the entirety of ANWR's Coastal Plain, a nearly 1.6-million-acre area, to drilling is being challenged in court. If it's overturned, the sales could be voided.
Thursday's announcement was met with backlash from environmentalists, who argue that the process has been done hastily.
"The Trump administration’s rushed and sloppy push to sell off the Arctic Refuge for drilling has been a disaster from day one, and has ignored the serious and permanent damage drilling would do to this unique ecosystem and the communities that depend on it," Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement.
His group and others noted that the administration still hasn't completed the prior step: seeking input on what tracts of land will be sold off.
The public can weigh in on that until Dec. 17, 10 days after the sale's Federal Register notice is expected to be published.
The move also comes as several major banks have sworn off financing for drilling in the refuge, which could make it difficult for companies seeking to do so.
However, the Trump administration has also proposed a new rule seeking to prevent banks from making such categorical financing exclusions for moral and political reasons.
Updated at 12:19 p.m.