Two coalitions of environmental organizations have sued the Biden administration for approval of the Willow Project, a controversial oil drilling project in northwestern Alaska.
The litigation accuses the administration of insufficiently assessing how the endeavor would affect the surrounding indigenous community and endangered species. Representatives for the nearby village of Nuiqsut made similar allegations in public comments in January, saying they were not allowed to participate meaningfully in the feedback process.
In the lawsuits, plaintiffs argued that the approval, which the Interior Department announced Monday, violated the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) and did not properly consider alternatives that would result in lower carbon emissions.
The administration, the plaintiffs wrote, based their decision on a “mistaken conclusion” that it lacked the authority to deny or significantly curtail the ConocoPhillips project. According to the lawsuit, the alternatives the Interior Department examined were limited to a scenario in which the oil company developed 100 percent of available supplies to 92 percent.
The Department of Interior declined to comment on the litigation.
Plaintiffs in the first lawsuit include the Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic, Alaska Wilderness League, Environment America, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Sierra Club, and the Wilderness Society. In contrast, the second suit was brought by Earthjustice, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“Shockingly, Biden greenlit the Willow project despite knowing how much harm it’ll cause Arctic communities and wildlife,” said Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Now we must step up and fight for these priceless wild places and the people and animals that depend on them. We can’t count on Biden to keep his word on confronting climate change and halting drilling on public lands.”
The Bureau of Land Management first approved the Willow Project under the Trump administration in 2020, a federal court in 2021 sided with conservation and indigenous groups that said the risk assessments were insufficient and ordered the government to redo them. The Biden administration’s approval, the lawsuits argued, contained the same deficiencies.
The Biden administration estimates the Willow Project would generate about 239 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions over 30 years, even as the administration has set a goal of halving U.S. emissions by the end of the decade.
The Monday announcement sparked outrage among environmentalist groups, many of them longtime administration allies, despite the Interior department’s emphasis on reducing the drill pads from five to three.