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SOURCE: Seattle Times, Washington Post
DATE: November 16, 2020
SNIP: The Trump administration has called for 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.

The “call for nominations” to be published Tuesday allows companies to identify tracts to bid on 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 Donald 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.

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 before Inauguration Day.

Gwich’in Steering Committee executive director Bernadette Demientieff, whose people have traveled with the caribou on the refuge for thousands of years, said in a statement: “Any company thinking about participating in this corrupt process should know that they will have to answer to the Gwich’in people and the millions of Americans who stand with us. We have been protecting this place forever.”

Frank Macchiarola, senior vice president of policy, economics and regulatory affairs at the American Petroleum Institute, said in an interview Friday that the administration is operating “under a tight timeline,” but he added that many Alaskans support drilling in the refuge and that the 2017 law gives officials a solid legal basis for moving forward.

“Our view is that Congress has acted,” Macchiarola said. “Production in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a long time coming. It’s overdue, and it’s important to our nation’s energy security.”

The Bureau of Land Management will hold a 30-day comment period once the call for nominations is published Tuesday. Once that period closes, the agency could publish a lease sale notice, which must be published 30 days before an auction takes place. Under that timeline, drilling rights could be sold before Jan. 20, Inauguration Day.