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Opponents of National Petroleum Reserve drilling project suffer defeat

The Ninth Circuit gave ConocoPhillips a green light Wednesday for its Willow drilling project in Alaska.

(CN) — ConocoPhillips can continue its oil-drilling venture in Alaska at the National Petroleum Reserve after the Ninth Circuit shot down emergency motions Wednesday from environmental groups.

The Center for Biological Diversity and the Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic had each appealed for relief after U.S. District Judge Sharon L. Gleason rejected their demands for an injunction against the so-called Willow Project.

In response to the latest defeat at the Ninth Circuit, Siqiñiq Maupin, executive director of Sovereign Inupiat, called it representative of how the oil and gas industry exerts power over those “whose health and food are most impacted and who will most experience the climate harm and disaster this project will fuel.”

“Corporate and political interests continue to sacrifice places like Teshekpuk Lake and communities like Nuiqsut for their profits,” Maupin said in a statement. “We will continue to fight this project and protect Teshekpuk Lake and do so every step of the way.”

The Sovereign Inupiat and five other plaintiffs in the case are represented by Trustees for Alaska. Bridget Psarianos, lead staff attorney with that group, claimed Wednesday that the courts have turned a blind eye both to the merits of the case and the known, ongoing harm to land and people.

“It is difficult not to see how a system that prioritizes oil and gas exploitation over the health of people and the planet disregards the voices of those without institutional power and wealth,” Psarianos added. “This devastating ruling only deepens our commitment to holding agencies and industry accountable to the impacts of their decisions on communities, climate, and the health of the planet.”

The attorney noted the Bureau of Land Management issued drilling permits as soon as the Biden administration approved the Willow Project on March 13, and that ConocoPhillips began ice-road construction the same day.

Gleason’s April 3 order cited inconsistencies in how the groups attested to the irreparable harm they would face withou a preliminary injunction, as well a how they spoke to the interests of the broader public,

Construction activities underway for the Willow Project include the opening of a gravel mine on the Tiŋmiaqsiuġvik River, the construction of up to 3.1 miles of gravel road and the building of a subsistence boat ramp on the Tiŋmiaqsiuġvik.

The Sovereign Iñupiat and the Center for Biological Diversity allege that such construction will harm wildlife, recreational users and subsistence hunters who rely on the massive federal reserve. They further claim that Bureau of Land Management violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to consider alternatives that would eliminate harm to wildlife or reduce impacts on the climate such as lower greenhouse gas emissions.

In its emergency motion, the center called it important to the public interest that Willow work fully complies with the National Environmental Policy Act .

“In its decision holding otherwise, the district court made several consequential legal and factual errors,” the Center wrote.

Though they were denied injunctive relief, the groups are still fighting separate lawsuits against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Wednesday's order denying injunctive relief came from Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Richard A. Paez and U.S. Circuit Judges Paul J. Watford and Danielle J. Forrest. The judges were appointed by Clinton, Obama and Trump, respectively.

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Categories / Appeals, Energy, Environment, Government, Law

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