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Trump administration’s hope for Arctic refuge lease sale this year seems out of reach

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge's coastal plain in summer. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

The Trump administration’s ambitious goal to hold a lease sale in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by year’s end appears to be out of reach, a spokesman with the agency that would oversee such a sale confirmed Friday.

Interior Department officials had planned to hold the sale, where oil and gas companies would bid on tracts of land to lease in the refuge, by Dec. 31. It’s a step toward drilling in a portion of the 19-million-acre refuge in northern Alaska, approved by the Republican-led Congress in 2017.

In September, the Bureau of Land Management, the agency holding the sale, recommended putting all eligible land — 1.6 million acres of the ANWR coastal plain, or 8% of the refuge — on the table for leasing.

But the agency has not issued a “call for nominations,” when interested parties can comment on or propose specific areas for the sale.

A lease sale cannot be held until at least 60 days after that “call” is made, Lesli Ellis-Wouters, a spokeswoman with BLM, said in an email last month.

“It will most likely be more than that because it will take time to filter through all of the comments we expect to receive,” she said.

Based simply on the math, there isn’t enough time to hold the sale this year, said Eric Tausch, a BLM spokesman.

The agency assumes the sale will be held next year, he said. Exactly when it might occur is uncertain.

“We haven’t heard yet,” Tausch said.

Congress in 1980 set aside the coastal plain for possible development.

Alaska Public Media first reported the possible delay Friday.

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