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Oil, gas drilling in pristine Alaska refuge takes step ahead

U.S. President Donald Trump has said he "really didn't care" about opening a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling but insisted it be included in recent tax legislation at the urging of others.

Notice on Friday in the U.S. Federal Register will start 60-day review to sell oil and gas leases

An airplane flies over caribou from the Porcupine Caribou Herd on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska. A notice being published Friday, April 20, 2018, in the Federal Register starts a 60-day review to sell oil and gas leases in the remote refuge. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/The Associated Press)

The Trump administration is moving toward oil and gas drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, fulfilling a longtime Republican priority that most Democrats fiercely oppose. 

A notice being published Friday in the U.S. Federal Register starts a 60-day review to sell oil and gas leases in the remote refuge, one of the most pristine areas in the United States and home to polar bears, caribou, migratory birds and other species.

President Donald Trump has said he "really didn't care" about opening a portion of the refuge to oil drilling but insisted it be included in recent tax legislation at the urging of others.

Addressing fellow Republicans at a GOP conference in West Virginia in February, Trump said a friend told him that every Republican president since Ronald Reagan wanted to get oil drilling approved in the refuge.

"I really didn't care about it, and then when I heard that everybody wanted it — for 40 years, they've been trying to get it approved, and I said, 'Make sure you don't lose ANWR,"' Trump said.

President Bill Clinton vetoed a GOP plan to allow drilling in the refuge in 1995, and Democrats defeated a similar GOP proposal a decade later.

'Reckless dash' to drill

The plan being published Friday starts a 60-day environmental review that includes public meetings in Anchorage, Fairbanks and other sites, including three in northern Alaska.

Environmental groups denounced the plan and said it was "shameful" that it would be published on Earth Day -- and the eighth anniversary of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the nation's worst environmental disaster.

"The Trump administration's reckless dash to expedite drilling and destroy the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will only hasten a trip to the courthouse," said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of Defenders of Wildlife. "We will not stand by and watch them desecrate this fragile landscape."

ANWR is home to the Porcupine caribou herd's calving grounds. (Rick Bowmer/The Associated Press)

The Trump administration and congressional Republicans said the drilling plan would help pay for tax cuts approved by Congress and signed by Trump in December. GOP lawmakers project at least $1 billion in revenue from drilling leases over 10 years.

Environmental groups and other critics call those projections wildly optimistic, saying low global oil prices and high exploration costs are likely to limit drilling revenue. 

The administration plan calls for at least two major lease sales over the next decade in at least 161,000 hectares each in the refuge's coastal plain. Surface development would be limited to 809 hectares.

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