Trump administration rushes to sell off Alaska wilderness for drilling before Biden takes over
US President Donald Trump, embroiled in a scandal over his communications with Ukraine, is facing growing calls from opposition Democrats for impeachment proceedings to be launched against him AFP / SAUL LOEB

The Trump administration is rushing ahead with plans to sell off portions of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling before leaving office.

A call for nominations will be published Tuesday allowing oil companies to identify tracts of land they would bid on during an upcoming lease sale on the nearly 1.6-million-acre coastal plain, although environmental groups have filed lawsuits on the administration's leasing program, reported the Washington Post.

“Even if leases are issued by the Trump administration, the Biden administration could seek to withdraw the leases if it concludes they were unlawfully issued or pose too great a threat to the environment,” said Eric Grafe, deputy managing attorney for the Alaska office of Earthjustice.

The Interior Department intends to sell the land before Joe Biden takes the oath of office in January, after the Republican congressional majority in 2017 authorized drilling in the refuge, which is home to tens of thousands of migrating caribou and birds, as well as polar bears and Arctic foxes.

“Receiving input from industry on which tracts to make available for leasing is vital in conducting a successful lease sale,” said Chad Badgett, the Bureau of Land Management’s Alaska state director. “This call for nominations brings us one step closer to holding a historic first Coastal Plain lease sale, satisfying the directive of Congress in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and advancing this administration’s policy of energy independence.”

The administration is also moving forward with other policies to expand drilling and weaken environmental rules in the final months of the Trump presidency, although oil and gas companies may shy away from the refuge because of its lack of infrastructure and public backlash.

“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,” said Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee.