Trump administration opens up millions of acres of protected Arctic land for oil development

The last-minute plan comes weeks before Joe Biden is sworn in as president.

The Trump administration has finalized plans to open a vast amount of protected land in Arctic Alaska to oil development.

The Bureau of Land Management on Monday released its plan for the 23 million acres on the western North Slope of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

About 18.6 million acres -- roughly 80% of the reserve -- are now available for oil and gas development by the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska.

The decision is "in support of the Trump Administration's agenda for a stronger and more energy independent nation," according to a BLM statement.

"This action is a significant achievement in delivering on our commitment to provide energy for America, from America," Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Casey Hammond said in the statement. "With this decision, we are expanding access to our nation's great energy potential and providing for economic opportunities and job creation."

In August, the Trump administration announced a plan to allow drilling for an undetermined amount of oil on more than 1.5 million acres on the coast of the refuge, despite decades of protests over how oil development could harm the environment and Indigenous tribes.

The new plan "includes important safeguards for wildlife and sensitive resources," as well as special measures to address concerns from nearby communities on the environmental impact, according to the bureau.

The decision to open up the land comes before the drilling rights on the eastern North Slope of the refuge are to be auctioned on Wednesday.

Trump's administration has reversed or hindered efforts aimed at helping the environment, most notably pulling out of the Paris Agreement, removing clean water protections and seeking to fast-track environmental reviews of dozens of major energy and infrastructure projects, including drilling and pipelines.

President-elect Joe Biden has said he would move to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from gas and oil drilling.

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