The Wilderness Society calls the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge “America’s Serengeti.” There are caribou and polar bears; it all sounds lovely, and I would like to see it someday in the post-pandemic future. Donald Trump might make that more difficult. NPR reported on Thursday that the administration is plowing ahead with plans to sell drilling rights in the refuge. Despite outcry from both environmental groups and Indigenous people who rely on the refuge’s caribou herds, the Bureau of Land Management has scheduled a sale date for January 6.
Trump has long wanted to sell off drilling rights in America’s public land and waters. In the 2018, the administration moved to open most coastal waters to drilling; though the proposal was later shelved, it aptly illustrates the president’s commitment to exploiting nature for profit. The refuge drilling plan has also been in the works for years. Trump’s decision to rush ahead with it now, in the latter days of his presidency, is a direct challenge to President-elect Joe Biden — and to liberal activists.
But it’s not clear who will show up to buy drilling rights on January 6. According to EARTHER, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Chase, Wells Fargo, CitiBank, and Bank of America have all announced that they will not finance Arctic drilling. That doesn’t mean the refuge is safe: As EARTHER notes, private-equity firms could still try to claim a piece of the coastal plain territory that Trump will auction off at the beginning of the new year. If they do, however, they’ll encounter an increasingly mobilized activist movement, plus resistance from nearby Indigenous communities. “The Trump administration has never even pretended to care about the Indigenous communities whose human rights would be threatened by the destruction of the coastal plain, but major financial institutions are listening to us,” said Bernadette Demientieff, the executive director of the Gwich’in Nation’s steering committee.
If anyone does bite, Biden, who opposes plans to drill in the refuge, may find there’s little he can do to reverse what Trump has set in motion. NPR reports that any sale finalized before Inauguration Day might be “difficult to revoke.” That would be a fitting end to a one-term presidency marked by destruction, corruption, and wanton profiteering.