Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Trump's (maybe) final gesture: allow oil drilling in sensitive Arctic areas

As a parting gesture, the lame-duck (dead duck?) Trump administration has forced through one last insult to the environment, just for good measure. 

Having passed a law allowing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) as part of his signature 2017 tax-cuts-for-the-rich bill, supposedly as a means of paying for the tax cuts, Trump has now made very sure to follow through, during the sad waning days of his odious regime, by auctioning off parts of the ANWR to his friends among the oil drillers.

The ANWR was established by Dwight Eisenhower in 1960 to protect the migratory and calving lands of the endangered porcupine caribou herds and the increasingly important land habitat of polar bears as climate change continues to decimate their ice-floe hunting grounds. It is also a sacred place for local Indigenous bands.

Trump and his Republican friends, though, are not big fans of wild animals or Indigenous rights, whereas they are big fans of oil and money. So, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), under the direction of tame Trump man Andrew Wheeler, has been directed to ensure the leases are sold off before Joe Biden can come in and protect the Arctic lands once and for all, as he has promised to do. Yes, that's right, the Environmental Protection Agency selling off protected lands to the highest bidder! Once sold, it will be very difficult for Biden to legally claw back the lands, although he could make them less desirable by imposing regulatory hurdles.

It's an unfortunate and spiteful action at the end of an administration that has been disastrous for the environment. The only possible silver lining is that oil companies, which ironically are more environmentally-conscious than Trump & Co, and which are at least governed by economics and practicalities, might balk at buying up leases that some organizations have valued at a much lower level than Trump's estimations, especially with the knowledge that a new federal administration is coming in that might make their investments even less appealing.

Wouldn't it be nice to see oil companies coming out and saying that no, this is the wrong thing to do, that the polar bears and caribou need the lands more than they do? Don't hold your breath on that one, though.


Well, oil companies didn't exactly come out full of environmental passion and outrage, but maybe this was the next best thing. In their own economic interests, major oil players like Exxon, Shell and BP decided to forego the Alaska auction, preferring to invest in renewable energy projects, leaving an Alaskan state agency as the only bidder. The auction raised a measly $15 million, a small sliver of what Trump & Co had hoped and predicted.

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