Groups Seek to Block Lease Plans for Alaska Refuge

The groups are worried about the resulting destruction of wildlife.

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JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Indigenous and conservation groups asked a federal judge Tuesday to block the Trump administration from issuing oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The groups in separate filings requested a decision by Jan. 6, the date of a scheduled lease sale.

They say the issuance of leases and proposed seismic exploration should be halted pending resolution of their claims challenging the adequacy of environmental reviews on which the sale and exploration plans are based.

Karlin Itchoak, Alaska state director for The Wilderness Society, in a statement said the Trump administration's “relentless pursuit of a lease sale and destruction of the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge” forced groups to seek an injunction.

An email seeking comment was sent to the U.S. Interior Department press office.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which falls under the Interior Department, earlier this month announced plans to hold the lease sale Jan. 6, weeks before President-elect Joe Biden, who has opposed drilling in the region, is set to take office.

Last month, the land agency announced a 30-day period for parties to nominate or comment on land that could be available in a sale. The sale date was announced before the end of the comment period, and groups criticized the process as rushed.

Alaska political leaders for years have pushed to open the refuge's coastal plain to exploration. But the Indigenous Gwich’in people have opposed development in the area, citing concern about the impacts on caribou on which they have relied for subsistence. Conservation groups also have fought drilling in the refuge.

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