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New York Times file photo by Christopher Miller/Wildlife in front of the peaks of the Brooks Range in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska on June 20, 2019. The Trump administration began selling oil leases for the refuge on Wednesday.

So the Trump chaos continues. But we're talking now of policy chaos.

On the same day that Donald Trump stoked his supporters who went on to storm the Capitol as Congress began certifying President-elect Joe Biden's 2020 election win, the amoral Trump administration began the process of auctioning off oil and gas leases in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The lease sales effort marks just one of nearly 100 significant environmental rollbacks Trump pursued for the past four years, and it caps a decades-long quest by so-called conservative Republicans to drill in one of the nation's largest and most unspoiled wild places.

It was and is just one more bankrupt action. And in more ways than one.

Of course it's morally bankrupt. But it's also bankrupt of money and purpose.

With lackluster oil prices and an increasing number of banks saying they would not finance Arctic energy projects, many major oil companies say they do not intend to buy the leases, raising questions on how much money the sale will generate for taxpayers.

That moral bankruptcy began with the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that included this measure to compel the government to auction hundreds of thousands of acres for drilling in the Arctic Refuge over the next four years. The law was intended to raise $1.8 billion in revenue for the federal government, but officials now say it will raise half that, and it could be even less.

The incoming Biden administration may be able to overturn that requirement to sell these and future leases since Democrats have in fact won control of the Senate in the wake of Tuesday's runoff elections in Georgia.

A coalition of environmental and conservation groups tried to block Wednesday's auction on the grounds that the administration had cut corners in crafting the leasing program, according to The Washington Post. But on Tuesday evening, U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason denied their request for a preliminary injunction.

So what, you may ask. Don't we have bigger problems. Well, yeah. Obviously we do in the short term. We saw it as Trump's supporters, whipped up by his lies, took over the Capitol for a brief time on Wednesday. We see it daily with the rising numbers of COVID-19 deaths as vaccines come available to us only in dribbles.

But we can't ignore the long-term needs either. And this drilling for unneeded fossil fuel only speeds climate change which we don't have time to ignore any more than we have time to ignore COVID-19 and more Trump lies.

We don't need the estimated 7.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil that the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management claims are available on the refuge's nearly 1.6 million-acre coastal plain. We do need to build alternative energy and support the jobs that clean energy will provide.

Likewise we need to preserve the refuge for the hundreds of thousands of migrating caribou and waterfowl each year that use this critical habitat, along with the Southern Beaufort Sea's remaining polar bears.

As sea ice on the Arctic Ocean abutting the refuge shrinks due to ever rising temperatures driven by climate change, the bears — threatened with extinction — have been forced to spend more time on land. Federal scientists estimate that a third of the bears' maternal dens lie within the area the administration has opened up for energy development. They are just another canary in the coal mine for us. We need to pay attention.

But on Monday, the BLM opened up an another 7 million acres for leasing on another area, one that's long been open, the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, home to a critical calving area for tens of thousands of caribou and migratory feeding ground for hundreds of thousands of birds.

There are already vocal opponents to all this, and they aren't using just the courts. There is a public campaign afoot to deter major financial institutions and energy firms from investing in such projects.

And it's working. America's six largest banks and Canada's five biggest banks have all pledged not to back energy exploration on the Arctic refuge.

But there's another important influence: that aforementioned lackluster oil market.

Even on the National Petroleum Reserve, where companies have operated for years, more than 90% of the leases sold since 2012 received just a single bid, according to the Washington Post. In eight of the past nine years, there was not a single competitive bid on the reserve.

Conservatives have long whined that being green costs too much — both in money and in jobs.

But perhaps they need to look at this again and do the math.

Bidders aren't bidding. Bankers aren't financing fossil fuel drilling. Might they be know something that the so-called conservatives haven't yet figured out?

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