The Trump administration will sell off rights to drill for oil in Alaska’s pristine and fragile Arctic National Wildlife Refuge just days ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. 

The 11th-hour lease sale is slated for Jan. 6, the Bureau of Land Management announced Thursday. That’s exactly two weeks before Biden, who has pledged to protect the vast wilderness area, assumes office.

“Oil and gas from the Coastal Plain is an important resource for meeting our Nation’s long-term energy demands and will help create jobs and economic opportunities,” Chad Padgett, the BLM’s Alaska state director, said in a statement. 

But several analyses have found that the supposed economic benefits the Trump administration and Republican lawmakers have touted in their push to transform the refuge’s 1.56 million-acre coastal plain into an oil field are unattainable.

The refuge, often described as “America’s Serengeti,” covers more than 19 million acres in northeastern Alaska. The region is home to polar bears, caribou, moose and hundreds of species of migratory birds. For decades, the coastal plain, known as the “1002 Area,” has been a battleground for energy companies and conservationists.

Kristen Monsell, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, slammed the announcement, calling President Donald Trump’s effort to rush through leases “incredibly reckless” and illegal. 

“Trump isn’t even pretending to care what the public thinks about giving the Arctic Refuge to Big Oil,” she said. “We’re counting on the Biden administration and the courts to protect polar bears and our climate where Trump wouldn’t.”

Biden has committed to doing just that. 

“As President, Biden will take immediate steps to reverse the Trump administration’s assaults on America’s natural treasures, including by reversing Trump’s attacks on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Bears Ears, and Grand Staircase-Escalante,” reads Biden’s comprehensive plan for tribal nations, which his campaign released in October. 

The Indigenous Gwich’in people of northern Alaska and Canada call the refuge “the sacred place where life begins,” and for thousands of years have relied on the caribou herds that roam the area as a primary food source.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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