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Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Interior Department on Thursday said it will auction oil drilling leases in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in early January.

Why it matters: The procedural step would make it harder for President-elect Joe Biden to thwart drilling in the region, even though any actual development is years away.

The big picture: The refuge is thought to contain huge oil deposits that proponents say can be tapped with manageable disruption. But environmentalists oppose development, arguing it's impossible without harming and jeopardizing the ecosystem that's home to caribou, polar bears and other species.

Where it stands: Drilling advocates finally succeeded in mandating lease sales in late 2017 legislation after a decades-long battle over whether to open the region.

  • But the fight is nowhere near over, and there are administrative and legal levers that Biden — whose platform calls for "permanently protecting" the region — could pull to stymie drilling.
  • And the level of industry interest in highly uncertain. Companies are facing strained budgets, cloudy future demand and prices, activist pressure and other forces.

What's next: The Interior Department is slated to announce winning bids on January 6. "The sale date gives the Trump administration two weeks to formally issue any leases sold at auction before Biden is sworn in as president Jan. 20," Bloomberg reports.

What they're saying: “Oil and gas from the [refuge's] Coastal Plain is an important resource for meeting our nation’s long-term energy demands and will help create jobs and economic opportunities," said Chad Padgett, the Alaska state director for Interior's Bureau of Land Management, in a statement.

The other side: Matt Lee-Ashley of the anti-drilling Center for American Progress said in a statement: "They have made such a mess of the leasing process — suppressing science, cutting corners, ignoring the rights and voices of the Gwich’in people — that this whole boondoggle can and should be tossed in the trash by the courts or the next administration."

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Jan 22, 2021 - Politics & Policy

New Energy Department roles look to animate Biden's campaign themes

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The burst of Biden administration staffing picks announced yesterday revealed that the Energy Department (DOE) has newly created roles that reflect what President Biden called campaign priorities.

Driving the news: One new position is "director of energy jobs," which is being filled by Jennifer Jean Kropke. She was previously the first director of workforce and environmental engagement with Local 11 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

In cyber espionage, U.S. is both hunted and hunter

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

American outrage over foreign cyber espionage, like Russia's SolarWinds hack, obscures the uncomfortable reality that the U.S. secretly does just the same thing to other countries.

Why it matters: Secrecy is often necessary in cyber spying to protect sources and methods, preserve strategic edges that may stem from purloined information, and prevent diplomatic incidents.

50 mins ago - Politics & Policy
Scoop

White House plots "full-court press" for $1.9 trillion relief plan

National Economic Council Director Brian Deese speaks during a White House news briefing. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Biden White House is deploying top officials to get a wide ideological spectrum of lawmakers, governors and mayors on board with the president’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief proposal, according to people familiar with the matter.

Why it matters: The broad, choreographed effort shows just how crucially Biden views the stimulus to the nation's recovery and his own political success.