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Overnight Energy: Interior finalizes plan to open 80 percent of Alaska petroleum reserve to drilling | Justice Department lawyers acknowledge presidential transition in court filing | Trump admin pushes for permits for men who inspired Bundy standoff

Overnight Energy: Interior finalizes plan to open 80 percent of Alaska petroleum reserve to drilling | Justice Department lawyers acknowledge presidential transition in court filing | Trump admin pushes for permits for men who inspired Bundy standoff

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WITHOUT RESERVATION: The Trump administration on Monday finalized plans to open more than 80 percent of Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve (NPRA) to oil drilling, pushing ahead over objections from environmentalists who have already challenged the plans in court. 

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The decision from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) opens more than 18 million acres to oil and gas drilling, including scaling back protected areas designed to be off-limits to development.

“This action is a significant achievement in delivering on our commitment to provide energy for America, from America,” said Interior Department Deputy Assistant Secretary Casey Hammond. “With this decision, we are expanding access to our nation's great energy potential and providing for economic opportunities and job creation for both Alaska Natives and our nation.”

Environmentalists already sued over the plan in August, arguing BLM failed to do its due diligence in fully accounting for the impacts on wildlife. 

“This plan opens up the vast majority of the land in the reserve to drilling. It would auction off critical habitat that polar bears need to survive and vital habitat for caribou and migratory birds to oil companies. More drilling will just exacerbate the climate crisis in a region that is already experiencing warming twice as fast as anywhere on the planet. It is bad for the Western Arctic, bad for people and bad for wildlife,” Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska program director with Defenders of Wildlife, said in a statement.

The NPRA is right next door to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and while the lands were more specifically set aside for drilling, the area is still full of wildlife, many of which rely on so-called Special Areas within the reserve.

The option chosen by the Trump administration opens the most landmass in the reserve to drilling compared to four other options, though even the most limited plan would have opened nearly 50 percent of the NPRA to drilling. 

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Read more about the plans here

NO UNCERTAINTY ABOUT THE ELECTION CERTIFICATION HERE: The Justice Department has acknowledged that a new administration will take office later this month in a recent court filing despite President TrumpDonald TrumpGiuliani used provisional ballot to vote in 2020 election, same method he disparaged in fighting to overturn results Trump gets lowest job approval rating in final days as president Fox News' DC managing editor Bill Sammon to retire MORE’s refusal to concede the election and the pressure on staff and officials to not acknowledge his defeat.

Department lawyers argued that a case regarding Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s temporary appointments of political officials to positions that typically require Senate confirmation will be “moot” because of the new administration in a footnote of a court document from December. 

The filing came on December 23, the same day that William BarrBill BarrBarr told Trump that theories about stolen election were 'bulls---': report Justice Dept. blasts Mexico's decision to close probe of former defense minister Acting attorney general condemns Capitol riots, warns 'no tolerance' for violence at Biden inauguration MORE left his post as attorney general after he said there was no evidence to justify Trump’s claims of voter fraud. 

The lawyers acknowledged the administration would turn over in a December 23 motion arguing for the dismissal of a case brought by environmental groups against the temporary appointments of William Pendley, who had been leading the Bureau of Land Management, and Margaret Everson, who leads the National Park Service. 

“Plaintiffs’ request for prospective injunctive relief against Mr. Pendley and Ms. Everson will become moot on January 20, 2021 when a new administration is sworn into office,” said a footnote in the document. 

“At that time, Mr. Pendley and Ms. Everson will, presumably, leave office, requiring that the prospective claims against them must be dismissed,” it continued. 

Read more about the case here

STILL CHEWING THE CUD: The Trump administration is once again pushing ahead with grazing permits for two men pardoned by President Trump whose arson conviction in part spurred the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.

A New Year’s Eve proposal from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) would allow Hammond Ranches to graze on lands in southeast Oregon. The ranch is operated by father-son duo Dwight and Steven Hammond who were convicted of setting fire to public lands in 2012.

The BLM subsequently revoked their grazing privileges in 2014 — a move that caught the eye of Ammon Bundy, escalating to a 2016 takeover of the refuge’s headquarters. 

The notice from the BLM would give the Hammonds a permit “due to their extensive historic use of these allotments,” and gives the public 15 days to protest the decision.

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Trump pardoned the Hammonds in 2018 and then-Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy: Interior finalizes plan to open 80 percent of Alaska petroleum reserve to drilling | Justice Department lawyers acknowledge presidential transition in court filing | Trump admin pushes for permits for men who inspired Bundy standoff Trump administration pushes for grazing permits for men who inspired Bundy standoff Interior secretary tests positive for COVID-19 after two days of meetings with officials: report MORE then sought to reinstate grazing permits for the ranchers.

But a judge revoked the permits in 2019, arguing it an “abuse of discretion” and that Interior didn’t undertake sufficient analysis to determine Hammond Ranches had a “satisfactory record of performance.”

The story is here

WHAT WE’RE READING:

How Trump Tried, but Largely Failed, to Derail America’s Top Climate Report, The New York Times reports

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Biden set to supercharge clean energy push with $40B stash, Politico reports

Wall Street Eyes Billions in the Colorado’s Water, The New York Times reports

FROM THE HILL’S OPINION PAGES:

Proven programs, not false hopes — engaging farmers in climate solutions, writes Jeanne Merrill, policy director with the California Climate & Agriculture Network, and Chris Schreiner, executive director of Oregon Tilth, a leading nonprofit organic certifier.