Trump admin to auction Arctic Refuge oil leases just before inauguration

1.6 million acres in the 19-million-acre refuge are involved

The Trump administration has taken another step in its efforts to open up Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling, announcing Thursday it would sell oil and gas leases on Jan. 6, just two weeks before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.

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The Bureau of Land Management – which manages more than 245 million acres of public land – said in a statement the sale would follow next Monday's publication of the “Notice of Sale” in the Federal Register.

US APPROVES OIL, GAS LEASING PLAN FOR ALASKA WILDLIFE REFUGE

While the bureau's Nov. 17 "call for nominations" would normally mandate a 30-day comment period, the process has been accelerated. The New York Times reported Thursday that the nomination call gives companies the opportunity to decide which tracts of land are of interest.

In a regular process, deliberations would last for weeks – likely cutting into the inauguration of Biden, who opposes the drilling.

Congress directed us to hold lease sales in the Arctica National Wildlife Refuge Coastal Plain, and we have taken a significant step in announcing the first sale in advance of the December 2021 deadline set by law,” wrote BLM Alaska State Director Chad Padgett. 

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (Photo by Sylvain CORDIER/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

“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," he added. "The law makes oil and gas development one of the purposes of the refuge.”

The bureau also noted that 92% of the refuge remains off-limits to development, and that the August Record of Development has established operating procedures and stipulations, including extensive protections for wildlife.

Yet environmentalists – now backed by a host of major banks – remain staunchly opposed to any drilling in the coastal plain.

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune called the move a "shameful attempt by Donald Trump to give one last handout to the fossil fuel industry on his way out the door, at the expense of our public lands and our climate.”

As NPR noted Thursday, groups have already filed lawsuits challenging the administration's endeavors.

The 19-million-acre refuge is home to polar bears and migrating caribou, and is virtually untouched. The lease sales would involve around 1.6 million acres of that land.

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The sale of oil and gas leases was approved as part of tax legislation in 2017.

The Department of the Interior, which oversees the bureau, didn't immediately return a request for comment from FOX Business.