Donald Trump hasn’t attended a COVID briefing session in five months, but he’s gone golfing at least five or six times since the election. And as the pandemic rages uncontrolled, with thousands of Americans dying every day, his administration somehow finds the time to do dozens of final favors for the fossil fuel industry — at the expense, of course, of our biodiversity, our public lands, and our public health.
Last week, the Trump administration began the formal process of selling leases to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is one of our last remaining truly wild places, home to caribou, polar bears, Arctic foxes, and hundreds of other species. It’s sacred to the Gwich’in people, who have relied on the refuge to sustain themselves and their way of life for millennia.
This announcement came as Hurricane Iota menaced Central America, becoming the second major storm to hit within two weeks. Supercharged by climate change, it’s torn roofs off homes, flooded communities, and claimed at least 30 lives. Every week, it becomes clearer that continuing to drill for fossil fuels can only lead us toward a deadly, dangerous future. Yet Trump’s plan to open up the refuge for oil drilling could create emissions equivalent to 898 coal plants or 776 million cars.
Drilling for oil in this sacred place is opposed by 70 percent of Americans. (That’s probably why the rider authorizing lease sales had to be slipped into a tax bill.) It’s also increasingly unpopular with the banks that would have to finance drilling: Thanks to the work of Sierra Club activists and Gwich’in leaders, more than two dozen banks worldwide, including all but one of the major US banks, have pledged to stay away from Arctic drilling. (You can add your voice and tell the last major US holdout, Bank of America, to join them).
Nevertheless, the Trump administration is eager to rush through a lease auction before Joe Biden takes office, since Biden has pledged to respect the will of the people and keep the Arctic Refuge protected. While the Biden administration would still have many avenues to block drilling, its task will be made more difficult if leases have already been issued.
And that’s far from Donald Trump’s only dirty trick during his final months in office. His Bureau of Land Management is fast-tracking seismic tests for oil in the Arctic Refuge. These tests can have disastrous consequences for wildlife: The 90,000 pound trucks used to transport the testing equipment can crush polar bears and their cubs hidden in dens. At the EPA, his appointees are ramming through rules that undermine the agency’s function of keeping us safe from harmful pollutants in our air and water. Trump has also removed the chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who leads the national climate assessment, while installing political appointees who cast doubt on climate science. And this isn’t even a complete list.
Having lost the election, Donald Trump is determined to do as much damage on his way out the door as he possibly can. He’s spent his entire time in office offering up our public lands to private industry and sacrificing our health so polluters can have fatter profit margins. And we’ve spent the entirety of his time in office resisting and blocking his attempts to do so.
If he won’t stop now, neither can we.