ANCHORAGE (AK)— The Gwich’in Steering Committee and allied groups await their day in court after a U.S. District Court decided not to grant their request for an injunction that would have prevented the U.S. Bureau of Land Management from authorizing winter seismic work and issuing leases of lands in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
“Today’s ruling is disappointing but does nothing to change the strength of our lawsuit or our resolve,” said Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee. “We will fight to protect the lands that nourish the Porcupine caribou herd and our people, no matter how long it takes or where it takes us. This administration steamrolled through a disrespectful, harmful, illegal leasing plan, and we plan to stop it. While that didn’t happen today, that day will come.”
Trustees for Alaska submitted the motion for a preliminary injunction in December as part of the Gwich’in Steering Committee’s lawsuit filed in August. The motion argued that planned oil industry seismic work and the issuance of leases under the expansive lease terms and rights of the Jan. 6 lease sale posed immediate threats to Arctic lands, animals, and communities. The administration has tried to turn over the coastal plain to private oil and gas interests, no matter the consequences to people and animals, and despite ongoing litigation that calls out the deeply flawed analysis used when approving the leasing program.
The court found that leasing itself does not pose imminent harm. It did not rule on seismic and other on-the-ground activities, leaving the door open for future legal action.
“Our case is still strong and our lawsuit will move forward, along with all the work we do with clients and partners to keep oil and gas out of sacred lands in the Arctic Refuge,” said Brook Brisson, senior staff attorney with Trustees for Alaska. “This administration has disrespected the public process from day one, and its approval of an illegal leasing plan results from its disregard of science, the law, public transparency, and engagement with frontline communities for the purpose of pandering to industry interests. We look forward to fully presenting these flaws to the court and unwinding this destructive program.”
Law firm Trustees for Alaska represents 13 clients in the lawsuit: Gwich’in Steering Committee, Alaska Wilderness League, Alaska Wildlife Alliance, Canadian Parks & Wilderness Society-Yukon Chapter, Defenders of Wildlife, Environment America, Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, National Wildlife Federation, National Wildlife Refuge Association, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, and Wilderness Watch.
Read the court’s decision here.