Conservation groups challenge illegal Western Arctic lease sales in court
Conservation and environmental groups filed a lawsuit today to protect the nation’s largest public lands reserve from oil and gas industrialization. The Trump Administration’s plans for a dramatic and reckless increase in oil and gas drilling in the Western Arctic would threaten core wildlife values and accelerate the impacts of global climate change, at a time when a transition to clean energy alternatives is urgently needed.
Earthjustice, on behalf of Natural Resources Defense Council, Greenpeace, Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth, filed suit in the U.S. District Court in Anchorage on Feb. 2 challenging federal lease sales that pave the way for expanded oil and gas drilling in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (Reserve). The Indiana-sized, largely wild and undeveloped territory is globally regarded as an ecological treasure. Iconic Arctic species such as grizzly bears, musk oxen, caribou, and millions of migratory birds rely upon Reserve lands for survival. Its coasts provide refuge for Pacific walruses and ice seals and designated critical habitat for threatened polar bears.
The complaint targets recent oil and gas lease sales held by Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Although the agency put more Reserve land tracts on the auction block last year than ever before – doubling the size of any Reserve lease sale in a decade – it failed to consider the far-reaching climate impacts that could be triggered by this wave of oil and gas development. BLM completely ignored the effects of greenhouse gas emissions that will accumulate once Reserve fossil fuels are extracted and burned. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires BLM to analyze these foreseeable climate impacts and their serious implications for future generations.
The lawsuit also challenges the failure of the agency to meet its obligation under NEPA to consider leasing fewer and less sensitive areas with potential lower impacts to the wildlife and other public values of the Western Arctic.
With the Trump administration’s sights set on expanding oil and gas drilling across the Arctic, including in the Western Arctic, alarm is growing across the country. This lawsuit is one of two filed this week to safeguard the Western Arctic from the irreversible harm that could be caused by these ill-considered and illegal lease sales.
“Increasing oil development in the Western Arctic will contribute to climate change, threaten special areas, and put further pressure on subsistence users,” said Earthjustice attorney Rebecca Noblin. “Locking in oil and gas development in the Reserve for decades to come is incompatible with the urgent need climate scientists have identified to transition away from fossil fuels to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.”
"The Trump White House seems intent on letting corporations squeeze every last drop of oil from our shared, public lands – without proper scientific review," added Tim Donaghy, Senior Research Specialist for Greenpeace USA. "Allowing for more drilling in this area will create more polluting emissions across the globe, accelerating the very real threat of climate change. The BLM has a duty to the public to fully assess the threats of this proposal before it's implemented."
“As the Trump Administration is taking every action it can to accelerate climate change, we must use the courts to ensure environmental law is protecting our communities and planet,” said Marcie Keever, Legal Director at Friends of the Earth. “We cannot allow oil and gas companies to recklessly ruin our climate by polluting our land, water, and sacred cultural sites. Protecting our climate means we must keep fossil fuels in the ground.”
“We won’t passively watch Trump auction off our last wild places to the oil industry,” said Kristen Monsell, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Alaska’s northern frontier teems with caribou and other wildlife that would be harmed by road building, well drilling and the oil spills that inevitably follow. The largest roadless area in the country should be protected by our environmental laws, which this suit seeks to enforce.”
“The Trump administration’s all-out attack on America’s Arctic will not go unchallenged,” said Niel Lawrence, Alaska Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “These extraordinarily valuable public lands belong to the American people—not the President’s pals in the oil industry—and we are here to defend them.”
Rebecca Bowe, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2093
Patrick Davis, Friends of the Earth, (202) 222-0744, firstname.lastname@example.org
Steve Jones, Center for Biological Diversity, (415)305-3866, email@example.com
Anne Hawke, Natural Resources Defense Council, (202)513-6263, firstname.lastname@example.org
Kate Fried, Greenpeace, (202)257-0057, email@example.com