Groups seek to block lease plans for Alaska refuge

Indigenous and conservation groups asked a federal U.S. judge Tuesday to block the Trump administration from issuing oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Decision requested by Jan. 6, the date of a scheduled lease sale

In this undated file photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an airplane flies over caribou from the Porcupine caribou herd on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via AP)

Indigenous and conservation groups asked a U.S. 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.

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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 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.

"The outgoing administration's attempt to sell-off sacred lands in the last throes of its term is an act of violence toward the Gwich'in people, our way of life, and our survival," said Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich'in Steering Committee, in a statement released Tuesday.

"Today we asked the court to stop this violation of human rights and desecration of sacred lands. Tomorrow, and the day after that, and an infinite number of days after that, we will fight as our ancestors did to protect the lands that nourish the Porcupine caribou herd and our people."

Big 5 Canadian banks won't fund drilling in reserve

The injunction comes a day after Scotiabank joined Canada's other big banks to announce that it will not fund drilling exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

It means none of Canada's five "big banks" will provide financing to any company with oil exploration projects within the refuge.

"To have all big Canadian banks standing against on this ... sends a message about just how much support there is in Canada for protecting the Arctic Refuge and its going to signal to oil companies that even if they succeed in acquiring leases before the current administration leaves office, they're going to struggle to find financing," said Malkolm Boothroyd, a coordinator for the Yukon chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

Boothroyd said there is another active campaign targeting insurance companies to stop them from insuring any company activity in the refuge. 

With files from CBC