President Trump Wants To Auction Off Drilling Rights In The Arctic Refuge Before He Leaves Office. W
In its final days, the Trump administration plans to sell off drilling rights in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Located in the northeastern portion of the state, its 19,286,722 acres make up the largest national wildlife refuge in the United States.
The sale of said rights would cap a decades-long battle to drill in the area. It’s the first big move on the matter since 2017, when the Republican-led Congress passed a massive tax bill that opened the Arctic Refuge to oil development.
Auctioning off the rights could improve the local economy, especially for Kaktovik, the sole community inside the refuge’s coastal plain. The refuge potentially contains billions of dollars in oil and gas reserves. But it would also disrupt one of the last expanses of untouched land in the United States. Members of the Gwich’in tribe, who are native to the area, and other climate change activists have pushed back on the move.
“This is not just a Gwich’in issue; there are a lot of Alaska Natives who depend on the caribou and the animals that migrate there,” Bernadette Demientieff, a Gwichyaa Zhee Gwich’in and the executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, told Vox. “Our identity as Gwich’in is not up for negotiation and our culture is not up for sale. We will fight this every step of the way.”
Already, the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline on the west end of the national refuge, which has had multiple hazardous oil spills in the region, provides a stark reminder of the fossil fuel industry’s menacing presence on Indigenous lands. Fossil fuel operations emit tons of greenhouse gases that contribute to the planet’s warming temperatures. And to do so on Indigenous lands in the Arctic — already dubbed ground zero for the climate crisis — only adds insult to injury for communities most vulnerable to climate change, like the Gwich’in people.
How will the sale play out if it happens as scheduled on Jan. 6? And can environmental groups and tribal leaders muster enough pressure to force oil companies out of buying?
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