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Alaska District Court Rules Willow Oil Project Can Proceed; Conservation Groups Plan To File Appeal

Groups vow to keep up the fight against ConocoPhillips fossil fuel project in Arctic


Jackson Chiappinelli, Earthjustice,, (585) 402-2005

Kristen Monsell, Center for Biological Diversity,, (914) 806-3467

Jacqueline Covey, Defenders of Wildlife,, (202) 772-0287

Brittany Miller, Friends of the Earth,, (202) 222-0746

Jamie Kalliongis, Greenpeace USA,, (314) 651-7497

Anne Hawke, Natural Resources Defense Council,, (646) 823-4518

Environmental groups intend to challenge today’s federal court ruling that the Willow oil-drilling project in Alaska’s Western Arctic can proceed. A federal court in Alaska has sided with project developer ConocoPhillips and the federal Bureau of Land Management in a lawsuit the groups brought in March.

The lawsuit was brought by Earthjustice on behalf of Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Earth, and Greenpeace USA, with the Center for Biological Diversity and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The groups plan to file an appeal of the ruling to the Ninth Circuit. Environmental groups argue Interior’s approval failed to satisfy federal legal requirements. The court also ruled today on a second lawsuit, filed by Trustees for Alaska, challenging Willow on behalf of Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic and others.

The massive oil project would release carbon-dioxide emissions equivalent to that of driving two million extra cars for the next 30 years, while causing devastating harm to the environment, Arctic wildlife, and nearby people who depend on the land for subsistence.

Ahead of Interior’s approval of Willow, ConocoPhillips, the company behind the project, claimed to investors that the initiative would become the “next great Alaska hub” that could open as much as three billion additional barrels of oil in nearby prospects that can only be accessed with Willow infrastructure in place.

Willow sparked fierce opposition from millions, including a youth climate movement and leadership from the nearby village of Nuiqsut. Opponents expressed concerns that Willow significantly and symbolically undermined U.S. national climate goals of slashing carbon emissions 50% by 2030 and achieving net zero by 2050.

Groups issued the following statements:

“While today’s ruling is disappointing, we are entirely confident in our claims, and plan to appeal to the higher court,” said Erik Grafe, Deputy Managing Attorney in Earthjustice’s Alaska regional office. “Beyond the illegality of Willow’s approval, Interior’s decision to greenlight the project in the first place moved us in the opposite direction of our national climate goals in the face of the worsening climate crisis.”

“We are extremely disappointed in today’s decision, which will have tragic consequences for Arctic communities, wildlife, and our planet as a whole,” said Hallie Templeton, Legal Director at Friends of the Earth. “But the fight is far from over. We maintain confidence in our legal claims that Interior has unlawfully ignored the significant environmental harms stemming from Willow. We won’t stop until this climate disaster of a project is dead once and for all.”

“Although we are disappointed in today’s ruling, we will never stop fighting to protect Alaskan wildlife and landscapes from the Biden administration’s wrongheaded and unlawful decision to approve the Willow project,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska program director at Defenders of Wildlife. “The Willow project is wholly incompatible with a clean, just energy future that protects polar bears, people, and the planet.”

Tim Donaghy, Research Manager at Greenpeace USA, said: “The science is crystal clear: we cannot afford any new oil and gas projects — much less a monster project like Willow — if we want to avoid the worst impacts of global warming. Today’s decision is a blow to everyone who spoke up and opposed this reckless project. The leadership of the Biden administration is now more vital than ever. We call on President Biden to stop approving these disastrous projects that will only drive us further into climate catastrophe.”

“This is a really sad decision for Arctic wildlife and the climate,” said Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Willow project poses a clear threat to people and ecosystems, but the Biden administration approved this carbon bomb without properly accounting for that potential damage. Willow will add massive fossil-fuel pollution to the atmosphere in the midst of a climate emergency and disrupt habitat for countless Arctic animals. We’ll do everything in our power to keep fighting this nonsensical harmful project.”

“As the public has shown in its fierce outcry against Willow, business as usual for the fossil fuel industry is untenable in the midst of a warming planet,” said Bobby McEnaney, director of the dirty energy project at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “Willow, which by design requires keeping the melting Arctic tundra cool just to enable drilling, symbolizes the absurdity and recklessness of expanded drilling in the Arctic. We’ll continue to urge Interior to take proactive, meaningful steps to avoid fossil fuel induced climate disaster in the Arctic.”

Caribou in the western Arctic.
Caribou in the western Arctic. (Kiliii Yüyan for Earthjustice)

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