New round of lawsuits against the Willow Project begins

Biden Administration approves controversial Willow Project
Biden Administration approves controversial Willow Project(DC Bureau)
Published: Mar. 14, 2023 at 8:34 PM AKDT|Updated: Mar. 15, 2023 at 11:18 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Environmental nonprofit group Trustees for Alaska filed a lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of six advocacy groups against the Bureau and Land Management (BLM), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior in response to the Biden Administration’s approval of the ConocoPhillips’ Willow Project.

The suit alleges that the BLM violated a variety of protective laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act, the Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act. It also alleges that some elements of the Endangered Species Act were also circumvented.

In addition, the suit filed by Trustees for Alaska argues that the Willow Project will adversely affect habitats protected by federal law.

“BLM’s failure to comply with these laws threatens the lands, waters, wildlife, and people of the northeastern Reserve,” the complaint says.

ConocoPhillips released a statement Tuesday afternoon saying that after five years of the long regulatory process, the BLM and other regulatory agencies have conducted a thorough process that “satisfies all legal requirements.”

Earthjustice, another environmental law organization, on Wednesday filed a suit of its own to challenge the legal basis of the decision to allow the Willow Project to proceed.

Senior Staff Attorney Bridget Psarianos explained why Trustees of Alaska filed the lawsuit on behalf of their clients.

“It is clear that BLM has an obligation to protect resources in the area, protect special areas, which are areas that are designated and set aside for conservation reasons,” Psarianos said.

Twenty-four hours after the decision from the Biden Administration to support the project, Psarianos and Trustees of Alaska moved swiftly to prepare the suit.

“Time is of the essence,” Psarianos said.

In a nod to the social media campaigns urging President Joe Biden to stop the Willow Project, Psarianos says that while she is disappointed by the decision, the battle will continue.

“We’re going to continue to do whatever it takes to fight this project with our clients. Now, that fight is in court, it was previously on TikTok and in the public sphere,” Psarianos said.

President and CEO of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association Kara Moriarty feels differently, describing the project as a positive step forward for the state.

“I think this is certainly a very well thought out, well studied, well-analyzed project. And we look forward to getting to work,” Moriarty said.

Moriarty called the lawsuit a “tool in the toolbox” of opponents to development projects like Willow.

“It’s hard to find a project that hasn’t been litigated in some form or fashion all the way back to the Trans-Alaska pipeline,” Moriarty said. “The Trans-Alaska pipeline took an act of Congress to approve. That pipeline has become a vital economic lifeline for the state of Alaska and an important piece of national infrastructure.”

While contentious, the debate springing up in immediate response to Monday’s news was predictable. The Willow Project has already faced a number of legal challenges over the course of several Presidential administrations.

Hours after the decision on the morning of Mar. 13, Sen. Dan Sullivan predicted the response from the projects’ opponents while speaking on the unity displayed by Alaska’s entire congressional delegation.

“Radical, environmental groups are probably going to sue as early as tomorrow to try and stop it, we need to be unified again,” Sullivan said.