(CN) – Federal regulators must reassess one aspect of permission oil and gas companies have to dump waste off Alaska’s north coast, the Ninth Circuit ruled Monday.
The Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission – which represents Alaska Native villages that engage in subsistence hunting of bowhead whales – petitioned for review of several provisions of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Beaufort Permit, which authorizes the discharge of 13 waste streams into the Beaufort Sea.
Effective until November 2017, the permit allows discharges in connection with only oil exploration, not with actual oil development and offshore production.
Siding with the challengers Monday, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit in Anchorage ordered the EPA to determine whether the discharge of noncontact cooling water will unreasonably degrade the marine environment,” since such discharge can deflect bowhead whales from their migratory paths and otherwise affect them.
The 16-page opinion notes the EPA has “candidly acknowledged its discovery of a misstatement” about that item of the permit, in which it mistakenly applied a discharge model for drilling-related effluents to cooling water.
Since neither the EPA’s documents nor its oral argument “explained the import of the agency’s error,” the court must remand the case for further proceedings, Judge William Canby wrote for the panel.
The whaling commission’s petition failed in all other respects, with the Ninth Circuit rejecting its claim that the EPA’s discharge-related decisions were not adequately supported by evidence, as well as its argument that the agency did not provide a “rational explanation” of how its monitoring program will prevent conflicts with subsistence uses.
“We deny the petition in all other respects because the EPA’s issuance of the permit is otherwise supported by the record of evidence, does not reflect a failure to consider an important aspect of the problem, and is not otherwise arbitrary and capricious,” Canby said.
Neither side immediately responded to request for comment on Monday.
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