Western Arctic health and climate action won big today in court when a U.S. District Court judge voided flawed Trump-era approvals and permits for the ConocoPhillips’s Willow Master Development Plan.
The court determined that the Interior Department violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act.
“Today’s court win recognizes that our land and our people deserve dignity and a pursuit of greater meaning,” said Siqiñiq Maupin, executive director of Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic, the lead plaintiff. “When we do not have to medivac our children out of the village so they can breathe, we can teach them how the native plants can be eaten. When oil fields aren’t blocking the migration and causing our caribou to starve, we can teach our youth how to hunt for our elders. This is our way of life, and today we defended it in court, and tomorrow and every day after that we will fight to protect it.”
Known harms to people and animals ignored
Trustees for Alaska filed the lawsuit in November, charging the Interior Department, U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with prematurely and illegally authorizing the project. In February, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted a request for an injunction and temporary restraining order to stop winter blasting, gravel mining, and road construction from harming the community of Nuiqsut.
Today’s ruling means agencies will need to start over with their analysis, environmental review, and public processes.
“The permits and approvals granted to ConocoPhillips disregarded local health concerns, required public processes, and the law, and today’s court ruling corrects that,” said Bridget Psarianos, staff attorney with Trustees for Alaska in a press statement. “It would be unconscionable to allow Willow to move forward when its authorizations were founded on an illegal and deficient environmental analysis that fails to lay out and address impacts to wetlands, water, land, animals and people.”
ConocoPhillips applied for its permits and rights-of-way to drill in December, and had planned to start construction work on Feb. 2, 2021, but was forced to stop construction by the Ninth Circuit’s injunction. BLM gave the green light on Jan. 20, the same day as President Biden’s Inauguration, for construction to proceed. BLM says it signed off on Willow before seeing Biden’s Secretarial Order prohibiting the agency from authorizing on-the-ground activities, and has continued to defend Willow in Court, despite the earlier ruling from the Ninth Circuit pausing the project due to likely legal violations.
Today’s court win voids permits for ConocoPhillips’ Willow project and aligns with the Ninth Circuit’s earlier ruling on an injunction.
Law firm Trustees for Alaska represents six clients in the lawsuit: Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic, Alaska Wilderness League, Defenders of Wildlife, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Sierra Club, and The Wilderness Society.
Find the court’s ruling here.