Alaska’s wildlife refuge and the Washington showdown | Polarjournal
Maybe polar bears of the Beaufort Sea can look a little more relaxed into the future. That’s because the auction for oil production in their territory didn’t bring in the bids the Trump administration was hoping for. Picture: Michael Wenger

The Trump administration has not shown itself to be particularly willing to take conservation and climate protection seriously over the past four years. In particular, the announcement to boost oil production in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge through the sale of lease rights has caused heated debate. Shortly before the end of President Trump’s term, this auction is now to be held. At the same time, Trump supporters in the Senate are trying to challenge Biden’s election one last time. A showdown that also touches the Arctic region of Alaska.

The Jan. 6 auction is not likely to go the way the Trump administration and proponents of drilling had wished for. According to various media, which refer to experts, hardly any interested parties had deposited their bids by December 31. Several newspapers have reported that only one company, AIDEA (Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority), has expressed interest. This actually is the state’s economic development agency, according to the New York Times. Whether this is even legitimate is currently being debated. Environmental groups and American Natives associations opposed to funding in the ANWR have filed legal cases to the auction and to AIDEA. In their opinion, the Alaska State Department of the Interior committed numerous violations in the process for granting the leases.

In the immediate vicinity of ANWR are numerous oil production fields and Prudhoe Bay, the center in northern Alaska for oil production. Located in the middle of ANWR, Kaktovik advocates for the grant projects and lobbies for them in Washington and Anchorage. Map: US Geological Survey

The auction should have raised up to US$1 billion, according to the wishes of the Trump administration and regional advocates. But so far, AIDEA has only submitted US$20 million as a bid. According to experts, a few more individuals may have submitted bids. But the big oil companies seem to have pulled out of the deal, despite announcements last year. “That could be because they (the companies) sense the toxic politics,” Tim Bradner, co-author of the Alaska Economic Report tells the media. On the one hand, there is the danger of protracted and costly lawsuits including loss of reputation; on the other hand, a simple cost-benefit calculation shows that there is simply no money to be made with the current oil price and the planned costs of extraction. Moreover, practically all the major banks have announced that they will not finance projects linked to ANWR. This, despite the fact that the U.S. government has introduced a bill to enforce them. Already, some experts have advised AIDEA to secure the rights and then wait for better times, meaning a post-Biden era with better oil prices and better climatic and political conditions.

President Trump’s term in office will not come with a peaceful handover. For months he and his supporters in Congress have been trying to turn the election in their favor. Even the plans for ANWR are not turning out the way the administration envisioned years ago. Image: Martin Falbisoner – own work CC BY-SA 3.0

But the situation with waiting is not that simple. This is because the leasing rights are only valid for 10 years and it is pretty certain that the opponents of the projects will exhaust every legal means to prevent the projects. In addition, President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are also likely to want to follow through on their campaign promise to prioritize ANWR protections. To make matters worse, with the current situation in Congress, Republicans are split. For on the one side sit the aides and henchmen of still-President Trump and are trying by all means to still reverse the election. For next Wednesday, they plan to appeal to Congress when the electoral votes are recognized. On the other side sit those Republican members of Congress who recognized the election results. That includes Alaska Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan. Senator Murkowski called the actions of members of Congress “contrary to the clearly expressed will of the American people.” Many of the Republican members of Congress fear that with the action, the party position could be weakened for a long time, as people would no longer have confidence in the party’s policies and there could be even deeper division. Democrats and their pro-environment, pro-climate policies would benefit. So things are likely to get heated in Washington and might lead to a showdown like in old western movies.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

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