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A beach in Alaska. Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images

The Interior Department took a step toward allowing oil-and-gas exploration in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) Thursday by releasing a draft environmental analysis.

Why it matters: The study from Interior's Bureau of Land Management is a precursor to auctioning drilling leases as soon as 2019 in the ecologically sensitive area that's believed to hold billions of barrels of recoverable oil.

The big picture: Drilling advocates gained the upper hand in the decades-long battle over ANWR when Republicans enacted legislation last year to allow development.

But, but, but: Any actual oil exploration and production would happen well into the future, and the intensity of industry interest is not certain.

  • A Barclays research note last year predicted that after the first lease sale, it would be 2–6 years before the first well is drilled.
  • That's enough time for Democratic drilling opponents to try and put up hurdles if they regain power in Washington.
  • A New York Times piece yesterday said potential drilling could actually be a decade or more away.

What's next: A 45-day public comment period on the study will open late this month and, per the NYT, the selection of a final leasing and environmental restriction proposal by early next summer.

  • "If the process survives expected court challenges by environmental and conservation groups, as well as efforts by the incoming Democratic majority in the House of Representatives to slow it down, lease sales for rights to drill for oil and gas could be held before the end of 2019," the paper reports.

What they're saying: "An energy-dominant America starts with an energy-dominant Alaska," outgoing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said in a statement.

He called opening ANWR's coastal plain a step "toward bolstering America's economic strength and security."

Green groups attacked the move. “The process laid out in the plan is rushed and reckless, defying good science and meaningful dialogue with stakeholders," said Wilderness Society president Jamie Williams.

Go deeper: The next battles over ANWR

Go deeper

Updated 23 mins ago - Politics & Policy

U.S. sounds alarm on Ukraine

Conscripts line up at a Russian railway station yesterday before departing for Army service. Photo: Sergei Malgavko/TASS via Getty Images

The Biden administration is "deeply concerned" by new intelligence — detailed for Axios and other outlets — showing Russia stepping up preparations to invade Ukraine as soon as early 2022.

Why it matters: Most of this was known from public sources and satellite imagery, but the administration is sending a stronger signal by releasing specific details from the intelligence community.

CNN fires Chris Cuomo

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for CNN

CNN said Saturday evening it has fired one of its star anchors, Chris Cuomo, following new revelations from a legal review made by the company into Cuomo's involvement in the management of his brother's sexual harassment scandal.

Why it matters: Saturday's firing speaks to how much pressure CNN was under by employees and critics to address Cuomo's behavior.

Updated 3 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Electric car prices could go up before they come down

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The secret to affordable electric vehicles is cheaper batteries. But after years of falling prices, battery costs are now headed in the wrong direction.

Why it matters: Costlier batteries could drive up the price of electric vehicles — threatening the auto industry's transition away from fossil fuels, and, in turn, society's fight against climate change.