Trump administration pushes ahead with sale of oil and gas leases in Alaska wildlife refuge

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
(Image credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Getty Images)

The Bureau of Land Management said on Thursday that it will hold an auction in early January for drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

As part of tax legislation passed by the GOP-led Congress in 2017, the Bureau of Land Management is required to hold two lease sales for drilling rights in the refuge's coastal plain within seven years, with the first one having to take place by December 2021. The auction is set for Jan. 6, just a few weeks before President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration. Biden has said he will take steps to ensure the 19.64-million-acre refuge, the pristine home to migrating caribou and polar bears, is permanently protected.

NPR reports that the Trump administration has accelerated the sale, with the Bureau of Land Management not waiting the required 30 days for oil companies to tell the government the land they want included in the lease sale. The coastal plain covers 1.6 million acres, and is believed to hold billions of barrels of oil.

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Conservation groups say drilling in the area could cause irreparable damage to the refuge and wildlife, with Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune telling CBS News auctioning off the leases is "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." Six banks, including Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Citi, have told the Sierra Club they will not finance drilling in the refuge.

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