Judge Rules Finding for Beaufort Sea Leases Unconstitutional
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Beaufort Sea Leases Unconstitutional

Judge Rules Best Interest Finding for Beaufort Sea Leases Unconstitutional

Best Interest Finding Required for All Phases of Beaufort Sea Leases

Anchorage, Alaska—A superior court judge ruled this week that the public will
have the opportunity to participate in DNR’s decisions about whether other uses, such as
subsistence hunting and fishing, and the public’s resources are jeopardized at each phase
of oil and gas development in the Beaufort Sea.

The decision comes in a constitutional lawsuit challenging the Department of
Natural Resources’ (DNR) Best Interest Finding for the Beaufort Sea Areawide Lease
Sale where the Court ordered that all phases of the lease sale (i.e., lease sale, exploration,
development, production, and transportation) must be analyzed by DNR to determine
whether they are in the best interests of the State. Superior Court Judge Peter Ashman
determined that DNR’s current practice to analyze whether the lease sale is in the best
interest of the State at the leasing stage only, which is before the impacts of exploration,
development, production, and transportation are known, is unconstitutional.

Judge Ashman held that “application of statutory permission to issue only a single
[best interest finding] at the initial phase of a development where it is impossible to
assess the cumulative effects of the development as they relate to DNR’s continuing
obligation to consider the public’s best interest violates Article VIII of the Alaska

“This decision finally allows Inupiat voices to be heard before financial interests
affect our way of life,” Chairman of Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous
Lands (REDOIL), Inupiat and Kaktovik resident Robert Thompson stated. “The
Beaufort Sea Areawide leases sold in Alaska’s Northern waters to the highest bidder
do not address the concerns of those of us who reside here. Before this decision,
we thought we would have no more say about the effect of major projects on the people
affected and who reside here. This is a good decision for the Inupiat.”

“This case demonstrates that the framers of our constitution were forward
thinking and knew that development for the maximum benefit of the people of Alaska
requires a balance with conservation and the public interest,” said Vicki Clark, Legal
Director for Trustees for Alaska.

“This decision resurrects that constitutional mandate.”

The adequacy of DNR’s 10-year Beaufort Sea Areawide Lease Sale Best Interest
Finding to safeguard the public interest pursuant to Article VIII of the Alaska
Constitution was challenged by Trustees for Alaska on behalf of Resisting Environmental
Destruction on Indigenous Lands (REDOIL), Gwich’in Steering Committee, Alaska Wilderness League, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Northern Alaska
Environmental Center.