A lease sale to explore the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plan will take place before the year’s end, a Bureau of Land Management director said on Wednesday.

The announcement coincides with the Democratic-controlled House approving a measure that bans oil and gas drilling in ANWR while that morning.

The lease sale is part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which directs the Secretary of the Interior to establish two area-wide leasing, each not less than 400,000 acres.

In a final draft environmental impact study, also released on Wednesday, BLM set aside nearly 1,600 acres for exploration.

BLM Alaska State Director Chad Padgett said in a brief news conference the two developments are not on a collision course.

“We’re rolling along, as normal, with what the law says rather than focusing on what the House vote was today,” Padgett said.

Padgett also said he expects a the first of the two lease sales to happen before the end of the year, but said he didn’t know yet when.

Long a political lightning rod, the ANWR developments triggered the predictable wave responses from those advocating for and against drilling and exploration.

“This is a major step forward in our decades-long efforts to allow for responsible resource development in Alaska’s 1002 Area, and I thank Secretary Bernhardt and his team for their thousands of hours of hard work,” said U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who also chairs the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. 

When the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was being debated, Murkowski took the lead in drafting the ANWR language into the tax bill.

“I’m hopeful we can now move to a lease sale in the very near future, just as Congress intended,” she said, “so that we can continue to strengthen our economy, our energy security, and our long-term prosperity.”

A Gwich’in Nation spokeswoman, however, panned the news, saying it ignores concerns from indigenous peoples.

“There is nothing final about this EIS process except that it demonstrates that this administration and the Alaska delegation will disregard our way of life, our food, and our relationship with the land, the caribou, and future generations to pander to industry greed,” said Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, in a prepared statement.

She continued, “This document disrespects the Gwich’in Nation and all people in the Arctic and world who suffer the impacts of climate change and nonstop exploitation, while formally scratching the backs of those who seek to desecrate land and dishonor human rights to fill their pockets."

The Arctic Slope Regional Corp. issued the following statement, reflecting its long interest in ANWR oil exploration:

“We are encouraged the Department heard our voices and incorporated our concerns into the final EIS. We look forward to a successful lease sale and strongly believe exploration and production can incorporate cultural and environmental protections while providing for the nation’s energy security. This economic driver will provide opportunities for our people and our region, as well as the rest of the state and nation for years to come."  

Earlier on Wednesday, when the House voted to ban oil and gas drilling, U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, blasted the measure.

During a two-minute floor speech, he called it a “sham bill.”

“This is wrong,” he said. “This has been debated or 40 years. An area set aside by the congress for exploration. And by the way we gave the Alaska Natives who live in Kaktovik 70,000 acres of land for their social economic well being and you’re taking it away from them.”

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