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Trump administration finalizes drilling plan for Alaska Arctic refuge

The Interior Department on Monday finalized plans to open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, a pivotal — but hardly the final — step in a decades-long battle over the ecologically sensitive region thought to hold huge oil deposits.

The big question: It remains unclear whether Joe Biden, if he wins in November, would look to find a way — either via administrative decisions or legislation — to reimpose restrictions that thwart the planned leasing and development.

  • The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the news, points out that the decision makes it "difficult to unwind the decision should Democrats recapture the White House in November."
  • The final "record of decision" paves the way for selling drilling leases in the refuge's 1.6 million acre coastal plan, a step enabled by the GOP's 2017 legislation that ended longstanding restrictions.

What's next: Actual oil-and-gas production is expected to be years from commencing, perhaps a decade, but earlier steps in the development process would begin sooner if leasing proceeds.

  • The late 2017 law called for lease sales to begin within four years. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt declined to offer specific timing but told reporters that a sale could occur this year. "I am confident that we can certainly move forward quite promptly," he said.

The other side: Environmentalists and Democrats have long opposed drilling in ANWR, calling it a risk to polar bears, caribou and other wildlife. Groups quickly pledged legal battles to thwart development.

  • "The Trump administration’s so-called review process for their shameless sell-off of the Arctic Refuge has been a sham from the start. We’ll see them in court," said the Sierra Club's Lena Moffitt in a statement.
  • The administration is looking to "liquidate our nation’s last great wilderness, putting at risk the indigenous peoples and iconic wildlife that depend on it," said Adam Kolton of the Alaska Wilderness League.
  • Bernhardt, while declining to outright predict what the courts might do, told reporters on a call this morning that "I would not be going forward if I was not very comfortable" with how the agency crafted the plans.

The intrigue: Another question is the degree of industry interest in the region.

  • Some of the world's largest companies have ruled out seeking leases there, and several major banks have said they would not finance development.
  • However, it's likely to be of interest to independent producers with operations in the state.

Amy Coney Barrett: "Should I be confirmed, I will be mindful of who came before me"

In speaking after President Donald Trump announced her as the Supreme Court nominee to replaced Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Circuit Court Judge Amy Coney Barrett said on Saturday she will be "mindful" of those who came before her on the court if confirmed.

What she's saying: Barrett touched on Ginsburg's legacy, as well as her own judicial philosophy and family values. "I love the United States and I love the United States Constitution," she said. "I'm truly humbled at the prospect of serving on the  Supreme Court."

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What they're saying: Trump nominates Amy Coney Barrett for Supreme Court

Democratic and Republican lawmakers along with other leading political figures reacted to President Trump's Saturday afternoon nomination of federal appeals court Judge Amy Coney Barrett to succeed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court.

What they're saying: "President Trump could not have made a better decision," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement. "Judge Amy Coney Barrett is an exceptionally impressive jurist and an exceedingly well-qualified nominee to the Supreme Court of the United States."

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Trump introduces Amy Coney Barrett as nominee to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg

President Trump announced he's nominating federal appeals court Judge Amy Coney Barrett to succeed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court.

Why it matters: She could give conservatives a 6-3 majority on the high court, and her nomination sets in motion a scramble among Senate Republicans to confirm her with 38 days before the election. Leader Mitch McConnell appears to have the votes to confirm Barrett with the current majority.

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Confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee set to start Oct. 12

Senate Judiciary Committee hearings for President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee are tentatively scheduled to begin Oct. 12, two Senate sources familiar with the plans told Axios.

Why it matters: The committee's current schedule could allow Senate Republicans to confirm the nominee weeks before November's election. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell currently has enough votes to confirm Circuit Court Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who is expected as the president's pick.

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A hinge moment for America's role in the world

The world may be living through the last gasps of America First— or just getting a taste of what's to come.

Why it matters: President Trump's message at this week's virtual UN General Assembly was short and relatively simple: global institutions like the World Health Organization are weak and beholden to China; international agreements like the Iran deal or Paris climate accord are "one-sided"; and the U.S. has accomplished more by going its own way.

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New York daily coronavirus cases top 1,000 for first time since June

New York on Friday reported more than 1,000 new coronavirus cases for the first since June.

Why it matters: The New York City metropolitan area was seen as the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic throughout the spring. But strict social distancing and mask mandates helped quell the virus' spread, allowing the state to gradually reopen.

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America on edge as SCOTUS, protests and 2020 collide

Rarely have national security officials, governors, tech CEOs and activists agreed as broadly and fervently as they do about the possibility of historic civil unrest in America.

Why it matters: The ingredients are clear for all to see — epic fights over racism, abortion, elections, the virus and policing, stirred by misinformation and calls to action on social media, at a time of stress over the pandemic.

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The long-term pain of the mental health pandemic

A less visible but still massive trauma caused by the coronavirus is becoming clear: our mental health is suffering with potentially long-lasting consequences.

Why it matters: Mental health disorders that range from schizophrenia to depression and anxiety exert a severe cost on personal health and the economy. Addressing that challenge may require out-of-the-box solutions.

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