- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 3, 2020

The Trump administration announced Thursday that it will move forward with oil-and-gas development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, scheduling a leasing sale to be conducted two weeks before the presidential inauguration.

The Bureau of Land Management said it would post a Notice for Sale for the Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Lease Program in the Alaskan refuge, citing the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which requires two sales of at least 400,000 acres each by the end of 2024.

A notice of the leasing sale is slated to be published Monday, and the sale itself is scheduled to be conducted Jan. 6 via video livestream.

BLM Alaska state director Chad Padgett said the agency has “taken a significant step in announcing the first sale in advance of the December 2021 deadline set by law.”

“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,” Mr. Padgett said. “The law makes oil and gas development one of the purposes of the refuge, clearly directing the Secretary, acting through the Bureau of Land Management, to carry out a competitive leasing program for the potentially energy rich Coastal Plain.”

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, the presumptive winner of the 2020 presidential race — President Trump is challenging the vote count in several swing states — opposes ANWR drilling, saying in his environment platform that he favored “permanently protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other areas impacted by President Trump’s attack on federal lands and waters.”

Critics accused the Trump administration of rushing the sale before the inauguration, while supporters pointed out that the debate over drilling in the 1002 Area has been ongoing for at least four decades.

Matt Lee-Ashley, senior fellow at the progressive Center for American Progress, accused the Trump administration of being “hell-bent on selling off the Arctic Refuge on its way out the door, rules and laws be damned.”

Sen. Maria Cantwell, Washington Democrat, blasted what she called the “lame-duck Interior Department attack on our environment.”

“[T]he incoming administration has promised to permanently protect the Arctic Refuge for future generations,” said Ms. Cantwell. “Hopefully the courts will overturn this reckless lease sale based on the Interior Department’s purposeful suppression of science and procedural shortcuts.”

Kara Moriarty, president and CEO of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, said the state’s coastal plain has been designated for development since the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

“The majority of Alaskans and industry have long supported lease sales on federal and state land in the Arctic, including the coastal plain of ANWR,” said Ms. Moriarty. “The coastal plain was set aside for oil and gas development in 1980 through federal law, ANILCA, which also permanently protected over 92% of the refuge. Waiting until 2021 for a lease sale since ANILCA passed in 1980 doesn’t seem that ‘rushed.’”

Under the August Record of Decision establishing conditions and terms for ANWR drilling, 92% of the refuge “remains completely off-limits to development,” the BLM press release said.

“The ROD also established numerous required operating procedures and lease stipulations to mitigate impacts to important resources, including extensive protections for wildlife such as caribou and polar bears,” said the release.

Alaska Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy and the all-Republican Alaska delegation cheered the Interior Department’s final order on ANWR exploration and development in August, saying it would provide a much-needed boost to the state’s economy while guarding the environment.

Democrats and environmental activists, who have fought for decades to keep ANWR closed to drilling, accused the administration of endangering the ecosystem.

Oil reserves in the 1002 Area are estimated at between 4.3 billion and 11.8 billion barrels, but how much interest the leasing sale will draw is unclear, given the drop in crude demand and prices during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Even after the leases are sold, a Biden administration could still gum up exploration and drilling by delaying or rejecting subsequent permits. A Democratic Congress — control of the Senate will be determined by the outcome of the two Jan. 5 Georgia races — could also repeal the 2017 law.

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