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The Trump administration on Thursday said it would issue a sale notice for oil leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) next week, putting it on track to hold a drilling auction in the ecologically sensitive area shortly before Joe Biden is to take office.

The move is the latest step toward pulling off the first ever sale of oil and gas leases in a pristine area of the Arctic before Biden, a Democrat who opposes energy development there, becomes president on Jan. 20.

Opening ANWR to drilling is an important pillar of outgoing Republican President Donald Trump’s agenda to expand domestic fossil fuel production. But green groups and Democrats have cast it as a giveaway to Big Oil that would harm the Arctic’s unique ecosystem and native people.

The sale notice will be published on Monday, setting up a sale to be held on Jan. 6 via video livestream, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management said in a statement.

The announcement comes a little more than two weeks after Trump’s Republican administration issued a request to energy companies to identify what specific areas in the refuge should be offered for sale. The companies have 30 days to respond, and a sale notice was not expected to be issued until the end of that period.

“The Trump Administration is hell-bent on sell ing off the Arctic Refuge on its way out the door, rules be damned,” Matt Lee-Ashley, a senior fellow at the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, said in an emailed statement.

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Holding a lease sale is just one of many steps in energy development, and oil and gas companies would have several big obstacles to overcome before any wells could be drilled.

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It typically takes several weeks for leases to be issued once a sale is held, a formality that could fall to the next administration.

In addition, environmentalists, native groups and Democratic-led states have filed four lawsuits aimed at stopping drilling in ANWR. They are currently weighing their legal options now that a sale appears likely, two of the green groups said.

Finally, several major U.S. banks have said they will not finance oil and gas projects in the Arctic region.

Alaskan oil production has dwindled in the last three decades, and it is unclear whether the sale will attract much interest from the industry. ANWR has been tested only once for the potential to extract fossil fuels.

Drilling had been banned in the refuge for decades before Republican-led tax legislation signed in 2017 removed that ban. Lawmakers in Alaska have long pushed to open up the area to oil and gas exploration.

BLM’s Alaska state director, Chad Padgett, said in a statement that oil and gas from ANWR’s coastal plain “is an important resource for meeting our Nation’s long-term energy demands and will help create jobs and economic opportunities.”

Bureau of Land Management officials were not immediately available to comment on the timeline. A White House spokesman would not comment. 

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Biden warns China will ‘eat our lunch’ on infrastructure spending

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US President Joe Biden has warned that China will “eat our lunch” if America doesn’t “step up” its infrastructure spending.

Mr Biden was speaking on Thursday with a group of senators about the need to upgrade infrastructure in the US.

His warning comes the day after his first phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

On the call, Mr Xi took a hard line on human rights saying a confrontation would be a disaster for both countries.

Mr Biden made the comments after meeting with members of the Environment and Public Works committee.

“If we don’t get moving, they are going to eat our lunch,” President Biden told senators.

“They’re investing billions of dollars dealing with a whole range of issues that relate to transportation, the environment and a whole range of other things. We just have to step up.”

During the campaign, Mr Biden proposed spending $2tn (£1.45tn) over four years to create jobs and invest in clean energy infrastructure.

A widely cited American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) “report card” from 2017 gave the country’s infrastructure a grade of “D+”.

The ASCE estimated that the total “infrastructure gap” needed $2tn by 2025 to fix, but would cost the economy twice as much if it went unaddressed.

The World Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Competitiveness Report ranked the US 13th in a broad measure of infrastructure quality, down from fifth place in 2002.

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China has been investing heavily in its infrastructure, pouring money into high-speed rail, metro systems, apartment buildings, electricity grids and mobile networks.

“They have a major, major new initiative on rail and they already have rail that goes 225 miles an hour with ease,” Mr Biden noted.

Human rights and diplomacy

President Biden also discussed several other points of friction with the Chinese President during his call.

The White House said he voiced “fundamental” concerns about Beijing’s “coercive and unfair” trade practices, as well as concerns over China’s crackdown in Hong Kong and treatment of Muslims in Xinjiang.

He also raised China’s increasingly assertive posture toward Taiwan and the country’s lack of transparency over Covid-19, said White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

Mr Xi maintained a hard line on Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Taiwan, calling them matters of “sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

He told Mr Biden confrontation would be a “disaster” and the two sides should re-establish the means to avoid misjudgements, China’s foreign ministry said.

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GameStop investors on a wild ride: ‘It was a rollercoaster of emotion’

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Shares of GameStop, AMC and others rebounded aggressively in extended trading on Thursday after Robinhood said it will resume limited trading of previously restricted securities on Friday.

“Starting tomorrow, we plan to allow limited buys of these securities. We’ll continue to monitor the situation and may make adjustments as needed,” Robinhood said in a statement.

GameStop shares skyrocketed 61% to trade at $312 in after hours trading, after closing down 44% to $193.60 during regular hours Thursday. The stock’s high for the week is $483.

Robinhood said its decision to restrict trading — which angered many users — was in order to comply with capital requirements mandated by the SEC for broker dealers.

“These requirements exist to protect investors and the markets and we take our responsibilities to comply with them seriously, including through the measures we have taken today,” the company said.

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