Officials aim to sell drilling rights to the pristine wilderness’s coastal plain before the president-elect takes office
By Juliet Eilperin
November 16, 2020
The Trump administration is asking oil and gas firms to pick spots where they want to drill in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as it races to open the pristine wilderness to development and lock in drilling rights before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.Follow the latest on Election 2020
The “call for nominations” to be published Tuesday in the Federal Register allows companies to identify tracts on which to bid during an upcoming lease sale on the refuge’s nearly 1.6 million acre coastal plain, a sale that the Interior Department aims to hold before Biden takes the oath of office in January. The move would be a capstone of President Trump’s efforts to open up public lands to logging, mining and grazing — something Biden strongly opposes.
A GOP-controlled Congress in 2017 authorized drilling in the refuge, a vast wilderness that is home to tens of thousands of migrating caribou and waterfowl, along with polar bears and Arctic foxes.
“Receiving input from industry on which tracts to make available for leasing is vital in conducting a successful lease sale,” Chad Padgett, the Bureau of Land Management’s Alaska state director, said in a statement. “This call for nominations brings us one step closer to holding a historic first Coastal Plain lease sale, satisfying the directive of Congress in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and advancing this administration’s policy of energy independence.”
The administration is pressing ahead with other moves to expand energy development and scale back federal environmental rules over the next few weeks. It aims to finalize a plan to open up the vast majority of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska to drilling, as well as adopt a narrower definition of what constitutes critical habitat for endangered species and when companies are liable for killing migratory birds.
At the Energy Department, officials may weaken energy-efficiency requirements for shower heads, as well as washers and dryers before Inauguration Day.
The government also plans to auction off oil and gas rights to more than 383,000 acres of federal land in the Lower 48 in the next two months, according to Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigner for the advocacy group Center for Biological Diversity.
It is unclear how much appetite there is in the oil and gas industry for drilling in the refuge, given the lack of infrastructure there and the public backlash that could accompany such a move. The area provides habitat for more than 270 species, including the world’s remaining Southern Beaufort Sea polar bears, 250 musk oxen and 300,000 snow geesHouse Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) decried the move, saying, “This administration is ending as it began, with a desperate push for oil drilling regardless of the human or environmental costs.”