Energy & Environment
The groups charge BLM with failing to consider the project’s impacts on lands used for subsistence by Alaska Natives and argue the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to properly consider Willow’s potential impacts on endangered species such as polar bears.
President Joe Biden’s decision to allow ConocoPhillips to build its massive project on federal land in the Alaska wilderness has caused an uproar among environmentalists. | Mark Thiessen/AP Photo
By Alex Guillén
A coalition of environmental groups on Tuesday filed a quick legal challenge against the the Biden administration’s decision to approve the controversial Willow oil project in Alaska.
Biden’s decision to allow ConocoPhillips to build its massive project on federal land in the Alaska wilderness has caused an uproar among environmentalists. They argued in their lawsuit that the approval violated four environmental laws despite the fact that the Bureau of Land Management greenlit a smaller version of the project than ConocoPhillips had sought.
“Willow would result in the construction and operation of extensive oil and gas and other infrastructure in sensitive arctic habitats and will significantly impact the region’s wildlife, air, water, lands, and people,” the groups wrote in their lawsuit, which asks the Alaskan court to vacate the Biden administration’s approval of the project.
BLM failed to follow requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act to consider alternatives that would lessen the project’s impact on the National Petroleum Reserve–Alaska, or NPR-A, or to take a required “hard look” at the project’s cumulative impacts, including on climate change, the suit alleges.
The groups also charge BLM with failing to consider the project’s impacts on lands used for subsistence by Alaska Natives. And the suit argues the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to properly consider Willow’s potential impacts on endangered species such as polar bears.
“Interior attempted to put a shiny gloss over a structurally unsound decision that will, without question, result in a massive fossil fuel project that will reduce access to food and cultural practices for local communities,” Bridget Psarianos, lead attorney for Trustees for Alaska, which represents the environmental groups, said in a statement. “This new decision allows ConocoPhillips to pump out massive amounts of greenhouse gases that drive continued climate devastation in the Arctic and world. The laws broken on the way to these permits demonstrate the government’s disregard for those who would be most directly harmed by industrial pollution and ignores Alaska’s and the world’s climate reality.”
Willow is estimated to produce about 600 million barrels of oil, with production projected to be over 180,000 barrels of oil per day at its peak.
The project is also expected to generate around 280 million tons a year of greenhouse gases over its expected 30-year lifetime — the equivalent of two coal-burning power plants every year, according to government estimates.
The Alaskan court in 2021 overturned a Trump-era approval of the project after determining its underlying environmental analysis was flawed.
The suit was brought in the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska by the Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic, Alaska Wilderness League, Environment America, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society.
The groups said a second suit spearheaded by Earthjustice, which had previously said it was reviewing the administration’s analysis of the project’s environmental impact as a basis for a possible lawsuit, will be filed soon as well.
The Interior Department declined to comment. The White House could not be immediately reached for comment.
© 2023 POLITICO LLC
Greens sue Biden over Willow oil project approval
Energy & Environment