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Construction planned to prepare Alaska’s Arctic refuge for oil drilling

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The Trump administration said on Thursday it would spend $4 million on construction projects in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in preparation for oil drilling in the nation’s biggest wildlife park.

In an announcement that touted planned improvements to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service visitor facilities, the Department of the Interior said it has approved spending on projects for “Oil Exploration Readiness” in the coastal plain of the Arctic refuge.

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The Trump administration is pushing for an oil lease sale in the refuge to be held as early as next year. The tax-overhaul bill passed by the U.S. Congress last December includes a provision mandating two oil lease sales, each offering at least 400,000 acres (161,874.26 hectares), within seven years.

The 19-million-acre (7.7 million-hectare) Arctic refuge, the largest in the U.S. national wildlife refuge system, contains some of the wildest territory in North America. There are no roads, established trails or buildings of any type within the refuge border, and no cell phone service, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

“This is a true wilderness Refuge,” the Arctic refuge website advises.

Political and business leaders in oil-dependent Alaska have tried for decades to pry open the refuge’s coastal plain, which is believed to hold potential for billions of barrels of oil. But the plain, between the Brooks Range mountains and the Arctic Ocean, is prized for its importance to caribou, polar bears and other wildlife. Oil development there had been banned until Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski led a move to insert a pro-drilling provision into the 2017 tax bill signed by President Donald Trump.

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In Alaska, the development plan is largely embraced, but not universally so. Drilling opponents gathered outside of last week’s Anchorage and Fairbanks hearings about the proposed lease sales to protest the plan.

Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift, in an email, said the $4 million “will be used to support six projects designed to improve and construct existing outbuildings, facilities and research operations.”

That work will include improvements to facilities located outside the refuge, in the Inupiat village of Kaktovik and at Galbraith Lake along the Trans Alaska Pipeline corridor, she said in the email.

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The $4 million appropriation for Arctic refuge projects is one of the largest single items in a total of $50 million in planned DOI construction spending.

“The President is a builder, he loves to build and he loves our public lands, so it is a natural fit that the Trump Administration is dedicating so much attention to rebuilding our aging Fish and Wildlife Service infrastructure,” Secretary Ryan Zinke said in a statement on Thursday.

A partnership of three companies is seeking to do seismic surveys in the refuge starting this winter. That plan, from SAExploration and two Alaska Native corporations, was panned by the U.S., Fish and Wildlife Service, the Washington Post reported last month.

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There has been no decision on that application, Swift said on Thursday. “It was a draft application. The Department does not make decisions based upon early drafts,” she said by email.

Reporting by Yereth Rosen; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Diane Craft


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
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‘We’ve entered a shame-free zone’: CNN’s Sciutto appalled by Trump’s ‘mind-boggling’ G7 corruption

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CNN's Jim Sciutto on Friday did not mince words when talking about President Donald Trump's decision to host next year's G7 summit at his own golf course in Doral, Florida.

During a segment about the president's multiple corruption scandals, Sciutto described Trump's G7 gambit as the president "explicitly, publicly steering a taxpayer-funded government contract to [his] own business." He then asked former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti to comment on why this scandal might get Trump into hot legal water.

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Deadly Turkey air strikes shatter Trump’s hours-old ‘ceasefire’ deal

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Deadly Turkish air strikes Friday shattered an hours-old US-brokered deal to stop Ankara's military offensive against Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria.

The ceasefire announced late Thursday was meant to provide a pause for the evacuation of Kurdish fighters from the battleground border town of Ras al-Ain and other areas Turkey wants to control along its border with Syria.

The five-day suspension looked designed to help Turkey achieve its main territorial goals without fighting but its Syrian proxies continued to clash with Kurdish fighters Friday and an air strike killed five civilians.

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Former Trump pal Donny Deutsch explains the president’s gamble on impeachment

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MSNBC's Donny Deutsch has a theory about his old pal President Donald Trump and his latest strategy to wriggle out of trouble.

The "Morning Joe" contributor suspects the president, whom he used to know from their days in New York City, believes impeachment is inevitable, but he's confident that Republican senators won't remove him from office.

"Rev, I'm seeing a little bit of a different show here," Deutsch told the Rev. Al Sharpton. "You and I know Trump pretty well, or used to know Trump pretty well. I don't think there's any chance Mick Mulvaney went out there on his own."

Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, admitted during a press briefing that he held up congressionally approved aid to Ukraine in an effort to press the country to investigate a conspiracy theory about Democrats and the 2016 election.

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