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Environmentalists praise court reversal of oil-drilling project in Alaska refuge

Advocates are now pushing the Biden administration to drop its support of the project, which would produce 100,000 barrels of oil a day over the next three decades.

(CN) — Environmental activists and organizations applauded the decision of an Alaska federal court to reverse approval of an oil and gas project in Alaska’s Western Arctic.

“This is a win for our climate, for imperiled species like polar bears, and for the local residents whose concerns have been ignored,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, the Alaska program director of the Defenders of Wildlife in a statement.

The Willow project by oil giant ConocoPhillips — Alaska’s largest producer of crude oil — was intended to produce over 100,000 barrels of oil a day over the next three decades.

U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason, a Barack Obama appointee, ruled the Bureau of Land Management did not adequately address the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the project or any measures needed to mitigate the impacts on polar bears. The court found the approval of the project violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act.

The project was first approved by the Trump administration and then defended in court by the Biden administration, sparking outrage from conservation groups. Environmental advocates now want the Biden administration to drop its support of the project in light of the Alaska court decision.

“[This] decision gives the administration the opportunity to reconsider the project in light of its commitment to address the climate emergency,” said Earthjustice attorney Jeremy Lieb in an statement. Lieb represented some of the plaintiffs trying to halt the project. “We are hopeful that the administration won’t give the fossil fuel industry another chance to carve up this irreplaceable Arctic landscape with drilling rigs, roads and pipelines. We must keep Arctic oil in the ground if we want a livable planet for future generations.”

“We welcome the court’s decision upholding the rule of law and we urge the administration to examine alternatives to this massive destructive project,” said Whittington-Evans.

“It’s a message to the Biden administration that Arctic drilling threatens our climate and vulnerable species,” said Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. “This project never should have been approved, and it can’t be defended. If President Biden is serious about addressing the climate crisis, he has to reject any further attempts to move this project forward and prohibit all new oil and gas activity in the Arctic.”

The court’s decision did not receive favorable reception from Alaska governor Mike Dunleavy, a Republican.

“This is a horrible decision,” said Dunleavy in an statement. “Today’s ruling from a federal judge trying to shelve a major oil project on American soil does one thing: outsources production to dictatorships and terrorist organizations.”

But for some activists, the court’s decision was met with a sigh of relief.

Retired racecar driver-turned-environmental activist Leilani Munter tweeted, “This small victory for Earth made me so happy I cried. They come so infrequently.”

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