If lease sales happen in the final days of the Trump administration, they may face disputes in court or could be reversed by the Biden administration.

A herd of caribou near the Canning River in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
A herd of caribou near the Canning River in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.Credit…Chris Flowers/Design Pics Inc., via Alamy

By Henry Fountain and John Schwartz

  • Nov. 17, 2020

Even if in its waning days the Trump administration succeeds in selling oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, the leases may never be issued, legal and other experts said Tuesday.

The leases would face strong and likely insurmountable headwinds from two directions: the incoming Biden administration and the courts, they said.

Under new leadership, several federal agencies could reject the leases, which even if purchased at an auction a few days before Inauguration Day would be subject to review, a process that usually takes several months.

Mr. Biden vowed during the campaign to oppose oil and gas development in the refuge, a vast expanse of virtually untouched land in northeast Alaska that is home to polar bears, caribou and other wildlife.

“President-elect Biden has made it clear that protecting the Arctic refuge from drilling is important to him,” said Brook Brisson, a senior staff attorney with Trustees for Alaska, a nonprofit public-interest law firm. “We trust that means his administration will use its executive authority to do just that.”

But if for some reason after those reviews the new administration did not reject the leases, they could also be overturned in court. There are already four lawsuits against the Trump administration’s actions relating to oil and gas development in the refuge, including one filed by Ms. Brisson’s group on behalf of Alaska Native and environmental organizations.

“Whoever wins these leases will walk into a minefield of litigation,” said Michael Gerrard, founder of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at the Columbia Law School.

Mr. Gerrard said the Trump administration has lost several similar cases involving oil and gas leasing in Western states, due largely to its poor handling of the required legal steps. “The haste with which it’s trying to ram through these leases could lead to still more mistakes that the opponents’ lawyers will jump on,” he said.

With the publishing of a “call for nominations” in the Federal Register on Tuesday, the Bureau of Land Management officially initiated the lease-sale program for the refuge. The document seeks comment from oil companies and other parties as to their interest in leasing specific parts of the refuge’s coastal plain, which covers 1.5 million acres along the Arctic Ocean.

The area is thought to overlie reserves containing billions of gallons of oil. For decades it was protected by law from drilling, but it was opened to potential development in 2017 by the administration and the Republican-led Congress.

The decision to start the lease-sale program was hailed by oil industry groups and by members of Alaska’s Congressional delegation, who have long pursued drilling in the refuge for the jobs and revenue it could bring. The Interior Department, which includes the Bureau of Land Management, said it had “taken a significant step in meeting our obligations by determining where and under what conditions the oil and gas development program will occur.”

Following the comment period, which ends December 17, the bureau could quickly announce a sale that could be held 30 days later — or just a few days before Jan. 20, when Mr. Trump’s term ends.

That is a very tight time frame, which would probably necessitate the Bureau of Land Management ignoring the comments for the most part and offering rights to all the tracts in the coastal plain for sale. The environmental impact statement for the leasing plan, which was approved by the Interior Department in August, recommended that all tracts should be made available.

The auction would be conducted on a single day, using sealed bids. Regulations call for the winning bids to be reviewed by the Bureau of Land Management to determine, among other things, the bidders’ capabilities for undertaking oil and gas exploration on the land. The winning bids would also be forwarded to the Justice Department to review any possible antitrust issues.

“Ordinarily after an auction it takes two to three months to execute leases,” said Niel Lawrence, Alaska director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. Even preparing the documents for signing can take time, he said.

That timetable would push the review into the early months of the Biden administration, he said. Even if the Justice Department review found no antitrust concerns, the Bureau of Land Management could reject the leases, he said.

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Officials aim to sell drilling rights to the pristine wilderness’s coastal plain before the president-elect takes office

A polar bear walks across rubble ice in the Alaska portion of the southern Beaufort Sea. (Mike Lockhart/USGS/AP)
A polar bear walks across rubble ice in the Alaska portion of the southern Beaufort Sea. (Mike Lockhart/USGS/AP) 

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.

Trump rolled back more than 125 environmental policies. Another 40 rollbacks are underway.

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.

Image without a caption

“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.”

~~~ CONTINUE ~~~

Leonids Meteor Shower 2020:

watch It Peak in Night Skies ~ NYT

A meteor from the Leonids streaking through the sky, seen between the arms of a cactus in Tucson, Ariz., in 2001.
A meteor from the Leonids streaking through the sky, seen between the arms of a cactus in Tucson, Ariz., in 2001.Credit…James S. Wood/Arizona Daily Star, via Associated Press

By Nicholas St. Fleur

  • Nov. 16, 2020, 10:31 a.m. ETAll year long as Earth revolves around the sun, it passes through streams of cosmic debris. The resulting meteor showers can light up night skies from dusk to dawn, and if you’re lucky you might be able to catch a glimpse.

The next shower you might be able to see is known as the Leonids. Active from Nov. 6 to Nov. 30, it is expected to be at its peak from Monday night into Tuesday morning, or Nov. 16 to 17.

The Leonids are one of the most dazzling meteor showers and every few decades it produces a meteor storm where more than 1,000 meteors can be seen an hour. Cross your fingers for some good luck — the last time the Leonids were that strong was in 2002. Its parent comet is called Comet-Temple/Tuttle and it orbits the sun every 33 years.

The best you can probably expect this year is about 15 streaks per hour. But according to the International Meteor Organization, viewing conditions could be favorable as the moon is far from being full.

If you spot a meteor shower, what you’re usually seeing is an icy comet’s leftovers that crash into Earth’s atmosphere. Comets are sort of like dirty snowballs: As they travel through the solar system, they leave behind a dusty trail of rocks and ice that lingers in space long after they leave. When Earth passes through these cascades of comet waste, the bits of debris — which can be as small as grains of sand — pierce the sky at such speeds that they burst, creating a celestial fireworks display.

A general rule of thumb with meteor showers: You are never watching the Earth cross into remnants from a comet’s most recent orbit. Instead, the burning bits come from the previous passes. For example, during the Perseid meteor shower you are seeing meteors ejected from when its parent comet, Comet Swift-Tuttle, visited in 1862 or earlier, not from its most recent pass in 1992.

That’s because it takes time for debris from a comet’s orbit to drift into a position where it intersects with Earth’s orbit, according to Bill Cooke, an astronomer with NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office.

The best way to see a meteor shower is to get to a location that has a clear view of the entire night sky. Ideally, that would be somewhere with dark skies, away from city lights and traffic. To maximize your chances of catching the show, look for a spot that offers a wide, unobstructed view.

Bits and pieces of meteor showers are visible for a certain period of time, but they really peak visibly from dusk to dawn on a given few days. Those days are when Earth’s orbit crosses through the thickest part of the cosmic stream. Meteor showers can vary in their peak times, with some reaching their maximums for only a few hours and others for several nights. The showers tend to be most visible after midnight and before dawn.

It is best to use your naked eye to spot a meteor shower. Binoculars or telescopes tend to limit your field of view. You might need to spend about half an hour in the dark to let your eyes get used to the reduced light. Stargazers should be warned that moonlight and the weather can obscure the shows. But if that happens, there are usually meteor livestreams like the ones hosted by NASA and by Slooh.

SNOTEL measurements ~ OpenSnow

Our Current Snowpack

The percent of average snowpack across Colorado is now looking reasonable, but this is early season, and when the denominator of the snowpack percent of average calculation is quite small (our average snowpack right now is low), then current numbers can look a little wacky.

The SNOTEL map below does a good job showing that the deepest snowpack is in the southern mountains with just below average numbers elsewhere.

As a state, we are right around average. The traces of the snowpack from past years show that being right around average early in the season is not a good predictor of where we’ll be later in the season.

Friendly Fire ~ The Architect’s Newspaper

It’s time for designers to embrace fire as the ecological and cultural force that it is.

By Timothy A. Schuler • October 29, 2020 •  

Advanced Prescribed Fire class NREM 4793/5793. conducting the Equipment and Spotfire Training exercise. T

This is the 15th year of that course being offered. The purpose of the exercise was to help the students to become familiar with all the equipment that they will be using throughout the semester while they conduct burns.

Out of this shift has sprung an entire vocabulary: rain gardens, sponge parks, living shorelines, hydrologic urbanism. Inspired in large part by Dutch planners, many of these terms are now part of the American planning lexicon. The idea of living with water is mainstream. Now, there are glimmers of a similarly paradigmatic shift taking place around another destructive force: fire.

Wildfires have become a startling fixture of life in the West. As I write, not one but three of the largest wildfires in California history are raging just outside of San Francisco, blanketing the city in smoke and giving the sky a preternatural, ghostly red glow. Smoke from still other fires has inundated Los Angeles, Portland, and Seattle, keeping pandemic-weary residents trapped indoors. In California alone, the fires have killed at least 25 people and gobbled up more than 2 million acres, an increase of 2,000 percent over 2019 figures. In Oregon, air quality dipped so low that it fell below the recommendations of the EPA’s Air Quality Index. By mid-September, the smoke from the fires stretched from Hawaii to Newfoundland.

Crews lighting scrubland on fire for controlled burns
A fire crew from OSU conducts prescribed fire exercises. Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates drew on this expertise in formulating a maintenance regime for a massive urban wilderness near Tulsa, Oklahoma. (T. Johnson)

These increasingly predictable megafires—wildfires that exceed 100,000 acres—do more than endanger human lives and property. They damage ecosystems, threaten city water supplies, and, most worrisome of all, fuel a dangerous feedback loop. In 2018, wildfires accounted for 15 percent of California’s total carbon emissions. Those emissions exacerbate global warming, which in turn creates prime conditions for huge-scale wildfires.

As with catastrophic flooding, however, the causes of these deadly conflagrations are largely anthropogenic. Fire is a natural part of many ecosystems. From the oak woodlands of the California coast to the longleaf pine forests of northern Florida, these plant communities coevolved with fire, and periodic burns remain crucial to the health of keystone species. Native peoples across North America knew this well and used controlled burns to manage their lands. “Yosemite Valley was shaped not only by natural forces but by native people setting fires,” explained Irene A. Vasquez, a member of the Southern Sierra Miwuk Nation in California.

As a child, Vasquez learned about traditional plants and the benefits of what she calls “good fire.” She had an awareness of the other kind; her father was a wildland firefighter. But Vasquez has since studied the effects of Indigenous practices like prescribed burns on native plants like tule, a marsh grass used in traditional Miwuk basketry. “Native culture, our traditional foods—they’re all dependent on fire,” she said.

map of mariposa county depicting the county's history of wildfires
The Lake Tahoe office of Design Workshop is heading up what’s likely the first-ever wildfire resilience and recreation master plan for Mariposa County, California. (Courtesy Design Workshop)

Frank Lake, a research ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service and a descendant of the Karuk tribe, put it even more succinctly: “For many indigenous people, fire is medicine.” Lake is also a cultural adviser to the Indigenous Peoples Burning Network. Historically, lower-intensity fires not only aided ecosystems but also reduced the risk of uncontrolled blazes, Lake explained. The dispossession and displacement of Indigenous peoples, followed by a century of fire suppression, has allowed forests to fill in, generating unprecedented fuel loads. Meanwhile, continued development on the fringes of cities and suburbs, a zone known as the wildland-urban interface, or WUI, has combined with rising global temperatures and shifting precipitation patterns to make each fire season more dangerous than the last.

Design and planning professionals are not ignorant of the threat that wildfires pose to communities. However, many responses rely on defensive strategies deployed at the residential scale—using nonflammable materials and landscaping, for instance. There is mounting evidence that communities need to literally fight fire with fire, embracing periodic burns as a way to protect public health and safety. During last year’s devastating fire season in Australia, a period that became known as the Black Summer, wildfires consumed close to 45 million acres but were noticeably less severe in predominantly Aboriginal areas. As The New York Times reported, Aboriginal use of “cool burns,” i.e., low-intensity fires, helped halve the number of destructive wildfires.

Architects and urban designers can help cities think through the spatial implications of wildfires. This fall, UCLA participated in launching the ArcDR3 (Architecture and Urban Design for Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience) Initiative, a new global design studio and series of symposia led by Hitoshi Abe, director of the school’s xLAB. The multidisciplinary partnership includes 11 universities located along the Pacific Rim and aims to establish “an international platform for the production and exchange of knowledge on environmental design that reduces the risk of recurring disasters.” UCLA’s Jeffrey Inaba, who with David Jimenez Iniesta is leading a studio focusing on fire, pointed out that wildfires have the potential to reshape large swaths of cities like Los Angeles, as land values in those areas that are most desirable but also wildfire-prone plummet. “The potential impact of fire is huge, not just to the hillsides but to all of L.A., because it’s going to mean a reorganization of the hierarchy of land value in the city,” he said.

~~~ CONTINUE ~~~


NPR’s Noel King speaks with exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, about his vision for addressing climate change. He has co-authored a book about climate change called: Our Only Home.

~~~ LISTEN ~~~


Heavy snow continues on Monday morning for the southern mountains, with lighter amounts in the central and northern mountains. Our current storm will rotate on Monday afternoon and bring a few inches to the northern half of the state through Monday night. Cold and mostly dry from Tuesday through Thursday ahead of a good-looking storm for the upcoming weekend.

Snow report Monday morning!

Since most ski resorts are closed, the following is taken from a mix of SNOTEL, snow stake cams, and automated weather stations on the resorts.

Wolf Creek: 12 inches (official report)
Telluride: 6 inches
Crested Butte: 5 inches
Copper Mountain: 4 inches
Snowmass: 4 inches

This brings our 48-hour snow total to 27 inches at Wolf Creek and roughly 4-12 inches at most other locations. Speaking of Wolf Creek, our friends at Powder7 sampled the goods on Sunday and it did not disappoint!

Our current weather-maker continues to deliver heavy snow to the southern mountains on Monday morning as it spins over Utah. Here is the latest satellite imagery on Monday morning.

The storm will slowly rotate into Colorado through Monday afternoon and bring even colder temps and periods of light to moderate snow to all mountains. Totals will remain on the lighter side for most areas.

View → 10-Day Snow Forecasts

The wind direction is currently out of the southwest, which heavily favors southern Colorado, but as the storm rotates through Monday afternoon, the wind direction will shift to more of a west and northwesterly flow. This should fire up additional snow showers through Monday night, especially as mountain-top temps cool and very fluffy snow stacks up.

In total, look for an additional 6-12 inches at Wolf Creek through Monday and 2-6 inches for all other areas through Monday night. There is upside potential for some northern mountain locations on Monday night so keep an eye on the snow stake cams as the snow stacks up.

Following the fun through Monday night, Tuesday morning will feature a mix of sun, clouds, and a few lingering snow showers in the northern mountains. Mid-mountain temps will start in the single-digits and only climb into the upper teens to low 20s by Tuesday afternoon.

Extended Forecast

For the middle of the week, we’ll be watching for continued cool but mostly dry conditions on Wednesday and Thursday. I can’t completely rule out a few snow showers in the far northern mountains but any accumulations will be very light as the best energy remains too far to our north.

Our full attention will then shift Friday, Saturday, and into Sunday as a stronger storm takes aim for Colorado. There is still low confidence in the details but keep an eye on Saturday for our next round of healthy accumulations.