Court orders Biden administration to redo ‘legally flawed’ reviews of Conoco Alaska oil project
By Ben Lefebvre
A federal court on Wednesday ordered the Biden administration to re-do environmental reviews necessary for permits for a controversial Alaskan oil project, throwing the decision to approve the project back to the agencies.
Details: The ruling out of the United States District Court for the District of Alaska voided several environmental reviews of the ConocoPhillips Willow project approved under the Trump administration, calling the analysis behind them “legally flawed.” Among the parts of the review the court singled out were those made by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management and Fish and Wildlife Service.
“BLM’s exclusion of foreign greenhouse gas emissions in its alternatives analysis in the [review] was arbitrary and capricious,” Judge Sharon Gleason wrote in the opinion.
The court also ruled that the endangered species review FWS made under the previous administration ”is not in accordance with the law because it lacks the requisite specificity of mitigation measures for the polar bear.”
“Because the Court concludes that portions of FWS’s biological opinion are invalid, BLM’s reliance on it is unlawful,” the court concluded.
Environmental groups and Alaskan tribes that had been fighting the project hailed the court decision.
“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.
But the decision also generated outrage from Republican elected officials backing the project, including Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan, who called on government lawyers to appeal the decision.
“The Biden Administration needs to keep its commitment to the Alaskan people by continuing to defend the Willow project in court for the sake of American energy,” Sullivan said via a statement through his office.
“Make no mistake, today’s ruling from a federal judge trying to shelve a major oil project on American soil does one thing: outsources production to dictatorships & terrorist organizations,” Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy said in a statement published Wednesday. “This is a horrible decision.”
An Interior spokesperson said the department is analyzing the decision.
“In a lengthy decision, the district court identified a number of issues in the environmental reviews and approvals issued in 2020,” the spokesperson said in a written statement.
Background: The judgment comes after environmental groups and Alaska natives had panned the Biden administration’s decision to continue defending the project from lawsuits filed during the previous administration. The project was championed by Sullivan and Alaska’s other Republican senator, Lisa Murkowski.
The Willow project is one of the few new large-scale drilling projects planned for the Arctic. ConocoPhillips’ plans calls for five wells that collectively could produce up to 160,000 barrels of oil a day. The development would include a new gravel mine, airstrip, more than 570 miles of ice roads and nearly 320 miles of pipeline to the Alaskan landscape.
“We will review the decision and evaluate the options available regarding this project,” a ConocoPhillips spokesperson said in a statement.