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Washington, D.C. December 7, 2020 – Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Reps. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), chair of the Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife, and Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), chair of the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, wrote to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt today seeking an explanation of how the Department of the Interior can move forward with a lease sale in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge when it would be cutting short a comment period and requiring bids to be finalized sooner than the minimum time required under Bureau of Land Management (BLM) regulations. Today’s letter notes that the Coastal Plain lease sale, like many other rushed and poorly justified Trump administration actions, is open to swift reversal should it face a court challenge.
As the letter, available online at https://bit.ly/3mWq26z, notes, under relevant BLM rules, “The publication [of the notice of sale] in the Federal Register” – which took place today – “shall be at least 30 days prior to the date of the sale.” However, today’s notice states that BLM must receive all sealed bids by 4 p.m. Alaska time on Dec. 31, which is only 23 days from publication.
“BLM appears to be pretending to adhere to the regulation by waiting until January 6, 2021, to open the bids, but simply saying that is the date of ‘the lease sale’ defies common sense and almost certainly violates the regulation,” the lawmakers write.
Just as seriously, today’s Notice of Sale comes one week before the end of a comment period that is supposed to inform the terms under which the Notice of Sale is issued.
The letter underscores the clearly political nature of the lease sale – which is designed to lock in private drilling rights before the beginning of the Biden administration – and warns any companies that may be tempted to participate in the lease sale that its results will almost certainly not remain binding: “Any company interested in bidding on these leases should understand that the chances of drilling a single well in the Arctic Refuge are exceedingly slim, in no small part due to the mismanagement, political interference, and flagrant violations of law that are the hallmark of the Trump administration.”
In September of 2019, the House passed Rep. Huffman’s Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act, which prohibits BLM from administering an oil and gas leasing program in the Coastal Plain and establishes an offshore oil and gas drilling fee to be deposited into a new Ocean Energy Safety Fund. The Republican Senate majority, in keeping with its preferential treatment for oil and gas drilling and its indifference to environmental quality, has failed to take any action on the bill.