RelaxFoto.de/E+/Getty Images

Trump wants to sell off Alaska's wildlife refuge for oil drilling. There might not be any buyers

For years now, Republicans and the Trump administration have been trying to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for oil drilling. Earlier this year, they finally got their wish and announced they would be auctioning off plots of the 19 million acres that make up the largest national wildlife refuge in the country. There's just one problem: no one is buying. According to a report from the New York Times, oil companies are choosing to sit out the bidding process for a multitude of reasons including fear of legal challenges and lack of financial incentive.

Trump's Interior Department made the announcement earlier this year that 1.56 million-acres along the coastal plain of the biggest stretch of untouched wilderness in America would be up for sale. Thursday is the deadline to submit bids on plots of that land, with a 10-year lease available to any potential buyers. Thus far, according to the Times, there is only one bidder, and that is the state of Alaska itself. The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, a state-owned economic development corporation, is bidding up to $20 million for some of the leases, with plans to hold onto the plots and sublease them later when economic conditions are more favorable.

It's embarrassing enough that the Trump administration spent three full years doing the legwork of trying to open up ANWR only for it to find that the only available buyer is the very state that controls the land. But to add to the comedy of errors, it's possible that Alaska's bid to buy up the rights isn't even legal, the New York Times reports. That's on top of the ongoing legal challenges to Trump's attempts to lease the land in the first place, regardless of who ends up buying it.

It's not all that surprising that this effort is failing. The Trump administration has rushed the auction process, intending to sell off the land before Joe Biden takes office. That has resulted in corners being cut, including straight up ignoring the findings of scientific studies on the effects of drilling in ANWR. The effort has been pretty roundly rejected as a bad idea, particularly among the general public. Earlier this year, the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication found that 67 percent of Americans oppose drilling in ANWR. Climate Nexus found that just 22 percent of Americans voiced support for opening ANWR up for oil excursions when it polled the public in July.

Even big banks, which are typically all too happy to put profits first, have backed down from supporting drilling in ANWR. Bank of America, Chase, CitiBank, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo have all announced that they will not fund oil exploration projects in ANWR. Given that the coronavirus pandemic drove oil prices down to record lows, it's not surprising that the banks have backed out.

It's still possible that Trump manages to find a bidder for some plots of ANWR, or that Alaska gets to buy up the land just to sell it later. But for now, it looks like all of that effort to destroy one of the country's most treasured wildlife refuges was all for naught.