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The Interior Secretary will make the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge available for oil drilling.

This morning, the Trump Administration formally approved a new leasing program in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. If leased by oil companies, the land, measuring approximately 1.5 million acres, would become a prime target for oil drilling.

“Congress directed us to hold lease sales in the ANWR Coastal Plain, and we have taken a significant step in meeting our obligations by determining where and under what conditions the oil and gas development program will occur,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who approved the measure, said in a statement.

“It requires an oil and gas development program that delivers energy to the nation and revenue to the Treasury,” Bernhardt said in a separate statement to reporters. “The law makes oil and gas development one of the purposes of the refuge, clearly directing me, acting through the Bureau of Land Management, to carry out a competitive exploration and development program for the potentially energy rich coastal plain.”

Credit: Josh Haner/New York Times

Environmental activists have condemned this decision, as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is home to various protected animal species, including polar bears and arctic foxes. Oil drilling in the Refuge could displace these animals, as well as potentially exacerbate the ongoing climate change crisis. Activists have also questioned why the United States needs to drill for more oil when the global oil industry is currently over-saturated with product due to travel bans.

“Make no mistake. The American people will not stand for the liquidation of our nation’s most iconic wilderness,” Adam Kolton, the executive director at Alaska Wilderness League, said in a statement. “We will continue to fight this at every turn, in the courts, in Congress and in the corporate boardrooms. Any oil company that would seek to drill in the Arctic Refuge will face enormous reputational, legal and financial risks.”

No formal date for lease sales to begin has been set, though Bernhardt has hinted that they could begin by the end of 2020.