Conservation groups represented by Earthjustice are taking legal action today to halt the oil industry’s imminent advance into the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, by asking the Court to put a freeze on oil leasing and seismic activity that would permanently mar the landscape while an existing legal challenge is underway. Litigation to defend the Refuge kicked off in August, when the groups challenged the plan to open the iconic public-lands area to the oil industry.
Today’s action comes on the heels of the Trump administration’s Dec. 3 announcement that it will hold a lease sale for the Refuge’s Coastal Plain on January 6 and permit destructive, large-scale seismic surveying on Refuge lands starting at the end of January. These moves by Interior seek to implement the challenged plan before the court can decide whether or not it is lawful.
The leasing program violates federal environmental laws, in part because it illegally downplays and severely underestimates the climate impacts of burning oil extracted from the Refuge. Recent court rulings have put the brakes on Trump’s rush to open other parts of America’s Arctic to the oil industry. Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit rejected the Trump administration’s approval of the first offshore oil-drilling development in federal Arctic waters, Hilcorp Alaska’s Liberty project, because it failed to properly consider the project’s climate impacts.
“Interior is rushing ahead to implement an illegal plan and cause irreparable harm to the Refuge, so today we’re asking the court to stop the rush while it considers our lawsuit,” said Earthjustice attorney Erik Grafe. “Climate change is the greatest threat of our time, and the consequences will be severe and irreversible if we allow oil drilling to proceed in the cherished Arctic Refuge.”