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Image: Bureau of Land Management, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
By Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer
Last week a federal judge threw out permits for a significant Alaska drilling project granted under Trump and legally backed by the Biden administration. The project isn’t dead yet, and ConocoPhillips says it will be evaluating its options to continue the operation. Still, Indigenous communities and environmental groups are celebrating the decision. “Today’s court win recognizes that our land and our people deserve dignity and a pursuit of greater meaning,” said Siqiñiq Maupin, the executive director of Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic (SILA).
Why This Matters: Despite the nation’s Paris Agreement goals to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, the project would have produced 100,000 barrels of crude oil each day for the next 30 years, potentially producing more than 15 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year.
Environmental groups allege that the project goes against these goals and that protecting the Arctic is imperative in the fight against climate change, given that the region is warming two to three times faster than the rest of the world. Protecting the Arctic from drilling protects Indigenous communities, crucial carbon sinks, endangered wildlife, and puts the nation one step closer to protecting 30% of all lands and waters by 2030.
Drill Decision: Judge Sharon Gleason of the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska sided with Indigenous and environmental groups who had sued the Trump administration, alleging that the federal government had failed to evaluate the ecological impacts of the project. Gleason ruled that the permit issued by the Fish and Wildlife Service was not protective enough of polar bears and that the Bureau of Land Management had fallen short of its obligation to give “maximum protections” to the Teshekpuk Lake special area. The area encompasses the calving grounds of the Teshekpuk Lake caribou herd, which SILA relies on.
However, some worry that the decision may not only have environmental implications but political ones as well. The Biden administration’s decision to back the project, called Willow, was instrumental in building a tenuous alliance between the Biden administration and Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski (R). Since then, Murkowski has played a significant role in rallying Republican support for President Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure package, which passed the Senate earlier this month. Following Gleason’s ruling, Murkowski said in a statement, “This District Court Order vacating key approvals and permits for Willow is just plain wrong. Although this is a setback for Willow, it is not the end. Even the Biden administration has come to understand what Alaskans have always known—that the Willow Project must move forward.”
By Amy Lupica, ODP Daily Editor Today, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) released its 2021 Plowprint Report, which tracks the amount of grasslands lost to plow-up each year. This year’s study found that plow-up across the Great Plains has only continued to accelerate, releasing exorbitant amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. The report concludes that […]
By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer With global temperatures rising and rainfall patterns changing, global agriculture is shifting too — with big changes projected. Places like Siberia and northern Canada that have been too frigid for farming in centuries past are expected to become cropland by the end of the century. But it’s not a […]
By Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer The National Park Service has closed down a large swathe of Alaska’s Denali National Park after excessive permafrost thawing caused landslide activity near the park’s only access road. The access road is now closed, blocking entry to about half of the park. Park officials say that although there have been landslides in […]
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