An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times: The Trump administration on Monday announced that it would begin the formal process of selling leases to oil companies in a last-minute push to achieve its long-sought goal of allowing oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. That sets up a potential sale of leases just before Jan. 20, Inauguration Day, leaving the new administration of Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has opposed drilling in the refuge, to try to reverse them after the fact. The Arctic refuge is one of the last vast expanses of wilderness in the United States, 19 million acres that for the most part are untouched by people, home instead to wandering herds of caribou, polar bears and migrating waterfowl. It has long been prized, and protected, by environmentalists, but President Trump has boasted that opening part of it to oil development was among the most significant of his efforts to expand domestic fossil fuel production. The Federal Register on Monday posted a “call for nominations” from the Bureau of Land Management, to be officially published Tuesday, relating to lease sales in about 1.5 million acres of the refuge along the coast of the Arctic Ocean. A call for nominations is essentially a request to oil companies to specify which tracts of land they would be interested in exploring and potentially drilling for oil and gas. The administration’s announcement establishes a tight timeline for lease sales, with the earliest they could occur being on or about Jan. 17. The call for nominations will allow for comments until Dec. 17, after which the bureau, part of the Interior Department, could issue a final notice of sales to occur as soon as 30 days later. Normally the bureau would take time to review the comments and determine which tracts to sell before issuing the final notice of sale, a process that can take several months. In this case, however, the bureau could decide to make the entire coastal plain available and issue the notice immediately. Any sales would be subject to review by agencies in the Biden administration, including the bureau and the Justice Department, a process that could take a month or two. That could allow the Biden White House to refuse to issue the leases, perhaps by claiming that the scientific underpinnings of the plan to allow drilling in the refuge were flawed, as environmental groups have claimed.

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