Conservation groups sue to stop the Willow Oil Project in Alaska’s Western Arctic

    Anchorage, Alaska (KINY) — Earthjustice has filed a lawsuit on behalf of conservation groups, together with NRDC (the Natural Resources Defense Council), to stop the Willow oil-drilling project in Alaska’s Western Arctic, which the Biden administration approved March 13.

    According to the groups' lawsuit, this approval of another large new carbon source undermines President Biden’s promises to slash greenhouse-gas emissions in half by 2030 and transition the United States to clean energy.

    Trustees for Alaska has filed a separate legal challenge on behalf of Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic and conservation groups.  

    Below is a statement released by Earthjustice, one of the groups in this lawsuit:

    "The BLM’s record of decision approving Willow essentially greenlights ConocoPhillips’ desired blueprint while ignoring pleas from around 5.6 million people, including leadership from the nearby village of Nuiqsut, asking the federal government to halt Willow. Even though the Biden administration describes its approval as a scaled-down version of the plan, the project will still add about 260 million metric tons of carbon emissions into the atmosphere over the next 30 years, the equivalent of an extra two million cars on the road each year for thirty years. The project would cause irreparable harm to the environment, Arctic wildlife and nearby people who depend on the land for subsistence.

    The legal challenge targets the Biden administration for failing to consider alternatives that could have meaningfully reduced greenhouse gas emissions and on-the-ground effects. Interior has relied on a mistaken conclusion that it could not deny nor meaningfully limit the project, and it considered project alternatives that ranged only from allowing ConocoPhillips to develop 100 percent of the available oil to allowing it to develop 92 percent of the oil. The Biden administration had the authority to stop Willow – yet chose not to. 

    The lawsuit also takes the administration to task for failing to assess Willow’s full climate impact, by neglecting to consider the additional climate pollution of future development that can only happen once Willow project infrastructure is in place. ConocoPhillips has described Willow to its investors as the “next great Alaska hub,” saying it had identified a staggering amount of oil, possibly as much as 3 billion barrels, of nearby prospects that could be accessed if the Willow infrastructure were in place."

    “There is no question that the administration possessed the legal authority to stop Willow – yet it chose not to,” Erik Grafe, Deputy Managing Attorney in Earthjustice’s Alaska regional office said.

    “It greenlit this carbon bomb without adequately assessing its climate impacts or weighing its options to limit the damage and say no. The climate crisis is one of the greatest challenges we face, and President Biden has promised to do all he can to meet the moment. We’re bringing today’s lawsuit to ensure that the administration follows the law and ultimately makes good on this promise for future generations.”

    “The science is clear. We cannot afford any new oil or gas projects if we are going to avoid climate catastrophe. Approving what would be the largest oil extraction project on federal lands is incredibly hypocritical from President Biden who in his State of the Union called the climate crisis an existential threat,” Natalie Mebane, climate director for Greenpeace USA said.

    “Millions of people – from Indigenous groups to former vice-president Al Gore – have come out in opposition to the project. The Department of the Interior has substantial concerns about the Willow project and the harm it could cause to the climate, wildlife, and people. This is a make-or-break moment for the president’s climate legacy. He needs to listen to the people, his own departments, and himself when he says we have an obligation to confront the climate crisis. The first step is for him to follow the science and stop approving oil and gas projects.”

    This announcement of the lawsuit was released on March 15, 2023


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