Green groups sue Biden administration over Willow oil project

Six groups filed suit on Tuesday, and further legal action is on the way, they said.

By Timothy Gardner (Reuters) - March 15, 2023
A polar bear keeps close to her young along the Beaufort Sea coast in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, in a March 6, 2007 file photo. (Susanne Miller / USFWS / handout / File Photo)

WASHINGTON — Six environmental groups filed a lawsuit on Tuesday over the Biden administration’s approval of ConocoPhillips’ Willow oil and gas project in Alaska, which they said could be a stepping stone to more development in an ecologically sensitive region.

Trustees for Alaska, the Alaska Wilderness League, the Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society and other groups said the U.S. Interior Department approved Willow on public lands on the state’s North Slope despite acknowledging and failing to mitigate “known harms” to Arctic communities, public health, wildlife and climate.

The suit claims the administration failed to consider cumulative effects of Willow and essentially ignored elements of its new climate consideration guidelines for reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act, despite claiming to incorporate them.

“The Biden administration has failed to listen to the science, the voices of Native leaders in the region and millions of people across America who have pleaded for the protection of air quality, subsistence resources and the global climate by rejecting Willow,” said Karlin Itchoak, of The Wilderness Society.

Willow’s opponents had argued the development conflicts with President Joe Biden’s efforts to fight climate change and transition off fossil fuels.

The project had been criticized by youth on social media including TikTok and by the United Nations, which has urged countries to speed the transition off fossil fuels.

The Interior Department on Monday approved three drill pads for Willow after saying last month it was concerned about the greenhouse gas emissions. ConocoPhillips had wanted up to five drill sites and infrastructure including dozens of miles of roads and pipelines and seven bridges.

The Interior Department said the smaller size will reduce impacts on species like polar bears and yellow-billed loons.

Earthjustice, an environmental law firm, will file an additional lawsuit, the groups said.

The Interior Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the suits.

ConocoPhillips said it believes U.S. agencies had “conducted a thorough process that satisfies all legal requirements.”

Additional reporting by Clark Mindock in New York.

This article has been fact-checked by Arctic Today and Polar Research and Policy Initiative, with the support of the EMIF managed by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

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