Six environmental and Indigenous organizations joined in bringing a lawsuit Tuesday against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the US Department of the Interior over the decision to approve ConocoPhillips’ Willow oil and gas project. The coalition includes Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic, Alaska Wilderness League, Environment America, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Sierra Club and The Wilderness Society, all of whom have actively expressed their disapproval of the Willow project.
The lawsuit, filed by Trustees for Alaska in the US District Court for the District of Alaska, says that the petroleum reserve is “an area already under stress from rapid industrialization and climate change,” and the project “will significantly impact the region’s wildlife, air, water, lands, and people.” The organizations allege that the Biden administration violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the Administrative Procedures Act, and the Endangered Species Act by failing to take a hard look at the consequences of the project and neglecting to consider reasonable alternatives. By bringing this lawsuit, the coalition is seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against the Biden administration.
This is not the group’s first time bringing legal action against the Biden administration over the Willow project. After BLM authorized Willow in January 2021, the coalition successfully challenged and halted the project’s progress. The district court vacated BLM’s approval of the Willow Project on the grounds that its alternatives analysis was arbitrary and capricious. In the lawsuit filed yesterday, similar concerns are presented. However, in response to the 2021 decision, the administration reduced Willow’s size from five to three drills and made other changes that the court will likely consider this time around.
In addition to this lawsuit, the Biden administration’s decision to approve Willow has sparked considerable backlash on social media from those who fear the project will undermine positive climate action. On the other hand, North Slope leaders and some lawmakers have celebrated the decision for its economic potential.