By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Six environmental groups filed a lawsuit on Tuesday over the Biden administration’s approval of ConocoPhillips’ Willow oil and gas project in Alaska, which they claimed could be a stepping stone to more development in an ecologically sensitive region.
Trustees for Alaska, the Alaska Wilderness League, the Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society and other groups said the U.S. Interior Department approved Willow on public lands on the north coast of the state despite acknowledging and failing to mitigate “known harms” to Arctic communities, public health, wildlife and climate.
The suit claims the administration failed to consider cumulative effects of Willow and essentially ignored elements of its new climate consideration guidelines for reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act, despite claiming to incorporate them.
“The Biden administration has failed to listen to the science, the voices of Native leaders in the region and millions of people across America who have pleaded for the protection of air quality, subsistence resources and the global climate by rejecting Willow,” said Karlin Itchoak, of The Wilderness Society.
Willow’s opponents had argued the development conflicts with President Joe Biden’s efforts to fight climate change and transition off fossil fuels.
The project had been criticized by youth on social media including TikTok and by the United Nations, which has urged countries to speed the transition off fossil fuels.
The Interior Department on Monday approved three drill pads for Willow after saying last month it was concerned about the greenhouse gas emissions. ConocoPhillips had wanted up to five drill sites and infrastructure including dozens of miles of roads and pipelines and seven bridges.
Interior said the smaller size will reduce impacts on species like polar bears and yellow-billed loons.
Earthjustice, an environmental lawfirm, will file an additional lawsuit, the groups said.
The Interior Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the suits.
ConocoPhillips said it believes U.S. agencies had “conducted a thorough process that satisfies all legal requirements.”
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner, additional reporting by Clark Mindock in New York; Editing by David Gregorio)