A number of prominent environmental organizations filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday morning against the Biden administration, challenging its decision to green-light a massive oil drilling project in Alaska earlier this week.
The coalition of groups said President Biden’s approval of the Willow Project — an oil drilling project in northern Alaska forecasted to produce more than 600 million barrels of crude oil over its 30-year lifespan — undermines his climate agenda and goals of significantly slashing greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade. The Department of the Interior (DOI) finalized the decision approving three of the project’s proposed five drilling sites on Monday.
“There is no question that the administration possessed the legal authority to stop Willow – yet it chose not to,” said Erik Grafe, the deputy managing attorney at the Alaska regional office for Earthjustice. “It greenlit this carbon bomb without adequately assessing its climate impacts or weighing its options to limit the damage and say no.”
“The climate crisis is one of the greatest challenges we face, and President Biden has promised to do all he can to meet the moment,” Grafe continued. “We’re bringing today’s lawsuit to ensure that the administration follows the law and ultimately makes good on this promise for future generations.”
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Earthjustice, which has previously sued over Willow, filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace USA, Defenders of Wildlife and Friends of the Earth. Several federal agencies and officials, including DOI Secretary Deb Haaland, were listed as defendants in the suit.
“We are enraged that the administration has again approved Willow despite the clear threats posed to the Western Arctic’s vulnerable environment and communities,” added Hallie Templeton, the legal director for Friends of the Earth. “Our prior victory forcing [the Bureau of Land Management] to re-do its environmental analysis should have proven that more must be done to protect our last remaining wild places from Big Oil’s exploitation.”
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The groups argued that, while the DOI characterized its decision this week as approving a scaled-down version of Willow, the project is still projected to release about 260 million metric tons of carbon emissions into the atmosphere over the next three decades. They said it would ultimately cause irreparable harm to the environment.
The legal challenge also accuses the Biden administration of neglecting alternatives to the project that could have resulted in a much lower carbon footprint, saying it only studied versions that would allow Willow’s developer to drill for a minimum of 92% of the oil capacity.
“The lawsuit also takes the administration to task for failing to assess Willow’s full climate impact, by neglecting to consider the additional climate pollution of future development that can only happen once Willow project infrastructure is in place,” the groups stated.
The Biden administration’s decision, meanwhile, came years after oil company ConocoPhillips first proposed the project. The company has projected it would produce up to 180,000 barrels of oil per day, create more than 2,500 construction jobs and 300 long-term jobs, and deliver as much as $17 billion in revenue for the federal government, Alaska and local communities, many of which are Indigenous.
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Willow was originally approved under the Trump administration before a federal judge ordered the government to conduct a more rigorous environmental analysis following a legal challenge from climate advocacy groups, many of which are part of the challenge Wednesday.
The project has received strong support from Alaska Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy, the state’s legislature, Indigenous groups, labor unions, elected leaders of the North Slope Borough and Alaska’s entire congressional delegation — Republican Sens. Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski and Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola — over the last year.
In a press briefing Monday, Sullivan said he expected environmental groups to challenge the decision and that he was already crafting an amicus brief for the case. He also noted the federal government had already committed to defending its decision in court.
“This is going to be the next hurdle and it’s going to be a big battle and it’s probably going to happen any day,” Sullivan said. “What we’re going to try to do is make sure all the stakeholders … are also letting their voices be heard in this litigation. The public interest is not going to be articulated well by some of these far-left radical lower 48 groups.”
“Public interest is the legislators and members of Congress and elected leaders on the North Slope,” he continued. “And what we’re going to try and do is make sure the judge understands what those are. But we’re ready for this.”
The DOI didn’t immediately respond to Fox News Digital’s request for comment.