Stop the rush to lease in the Arctic

Next month will mark the 60th anniversary of the Arctic Refuge, which was set aside by Republican President Dwight Eisenhower for preservation. But the outgoing Trump Administration seems to be doing everything in its power to speed ahead with leasing and oil drilling in the coastal plain region of the refuge that was opened for business under the 2017 Congressional tax measure.

This week, the Bureau of Land Management called for nominations to pave the way for corporations to identify preferable tracts they want to see offered for lease in a rush to ward off any actions by President-Elect Joseph Biden to reverse Trump’s pro-drilling actions. Biden has said he will protect the Arctic Refuge permanently and ban new oil and gas permitting on all public lands and waters.

“The Trump administration’s last-ditch effort to plunder our nation’s most pristine wild lands is his latest abhorrent attempt to elevate greed over protection over habitats and wildlife,’’ Friends of Animals President Priscilla Feral said. “We all need to speak up to stop the effort and ensure that the new administration takes quick action to reverse the assault on our nation’s most pristine lands.”

The Alaskan refuge was established in 1960 as the Arctic National Wildlife Range and expanded in 1980 when it was renamed the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Its 1.5 million-acre coastal plain region is home to denning polar bears, grizzlies, wolves, wolverines, muskoxen and more than 130 species of migratory birds.

Friends of Animals has been pushing back against the effort to open the Refuge to energy interests. It filed comments with BLM opposing the lease sales.

“If allowed to move forward, issuing leases in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge could accelerate climate change, damage the arctic ecosystem, and harm imperiled and iconic wildlife that lives there. Nowhere are the impacts of climate change felt more acutely than the Arctic, which is warming at more than double the rate of the rest of the country. Opening the Coastal Plain for fossil fuel development could exacerbate the impacts of climate change already at the front door of Arctic communities,” Friends of Animals Wildlife Law Program Assistant Director Jennifer Best wrote in the comments.

FOA also wrote to Bank of America asking it to join with other financial institutions who won’t finance energy exploration in the Arctic.

While the tax measure mandates sales by the end of 2021, the Trump administration’s gambit to rush the leases is on thin ice as pressure mounts to protect the Refuge. That’s because there’s a financial wall being built by major banks who refuse to fund drilling efforts in the Refuge.

After taking heat — including from FoA — for being the largest financial institution in the U.S. that had not committed to protecting the Arctic, Bank of America announced in December that it would not finance drilling. Toronto-Dominion Bank also said it will not provide funding for oil and gas-related activities in the Arctic, joining other Canadian and U.S. financial institutions including the Royal Bank of Canada, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan Chase.

Lack of funding from banks coupled with bottom-of-the-barrel oil prices, decreased demand and alternative green energy sources as well as litigation and court challenges put the entire rush-to-lease effort in question.

On Day 1, Biden can issue executive orders to protect the Arctic and his administration can enact regulations that will toughen the process of obtaining permits even if leases are sold now.

The public has until Dec. 17 to submit comments against the leasing sales.

This post was updated on December 2, 2020.