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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 28, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Takeaways from Biden's sweeping order on climate change

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Biden's mammoth executive order on climate policy weighs in at over 7,500 words and resists any single narrative, but I've got a few initial takeaways.

Why it matters: The order aims to marshal the entire federal government behind new initiatives, so that means agencies that may not have the muscle memory or expertise of the resource and environmental branches like EPA and DOE.

The E-commerce shopping spree

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Retailers have gotten really good at selling stuff online. So much so, investors want them to separate from the business units that do just that.

Why it matters: Spinning off these crown jewels may jeopardize both the physical and e-commerce sides of the companies in the long run by breaking the benefits of hybrid operations, analysts say.

1 hour ago - World

U.S. envoy to visit Sudan as "most dangerous" crisis intensifies

The sit-in in Khartoum. Photo: Mahmoud Hjaj/Anadolu Agency via Getty

U.S. envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman will visit Khartoum this week amid what Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has called the “worst and most dangerous" crisis of Sudan’s transition to democracy, two sources with direct knowledge tell Axios.

Driving the news: Roughly 2,000-3,000 people had joined a sit-in in Khartoum as of this afternoon, per Reuters, after protesters massed over the weekend to call on the military to bring down the government. The protests came just four weeks after a failed military coup.