Biden administration lets stand a judgment thwarting Willow, a ConocoPhillips drilling project in Arctic

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A file photo of a site in the National Petroleum Reserve on Alaska’s North Slope. (Mark Thiessen/AP/CP)

Conservation groups are cheering the Biden administration’s decision not to appeal a judgment that reversed approval for Willow, the ConocoPhillips’ plan to develop five drilling sites in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason ruled in August that the Trump administration didn’t adequately consider greenhouse gas emissions or the impact on polar bears when it approved the plan.

The Biden administration initially defended the Willow approval, but Tuesday was the deadline for an appeal and the government didn’t file one. Nor did ConocoPhillips.

Jeremy Lieb, an attorney in the Anchorage office of Earthjustice, said Willow doesn’t fit with the Biden administration’s climate goals.

“We’re pleased to see that the administration has recognized that at this point and is not continuing to defend the plan in court on appeal,” he said.

Priority for Murkowski

Willow is a big priority for U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski. The Biden administration’s initial defense of the project was seen as an overture to her, as she is one of the few Senate Republicans who might vote for some of Biden’s priorities.

Interior Department spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz didn’t say why the government didn’t file an appeal.

“The matter has now been remanded to the BLM,” she said in an email. “In light of the court’s decision, we are reviewing to determine next steps.”

If the Bureau of Land Management decides to do another environmental review to comply with the judge’s order, environmental groups hope the agency scraps the project or imposes more restrictions.

A ConocoPhillips spokeswoman says the company remains committed to the project.

“ConocoPhillips is not appealing the court’s earlier decision because we believe the best path forward is to engage directly with the relevant agencies to address the matters described in the decision,” she said by email Thursday.

Related stories from around the North: 

CanadaPotential Canadian Northern Corridor would present unique security challenges and opportunities, say researchers, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: The world could transition entirely to cheap, safe renewable energy before 2050: Finnish study, Yle News

Norway: Norway’s new government highlights fight against climate change and continued oil drilling, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Russia’s Rosneft and Norway’s Equinor sign agreement to manage emissions, The Independent Barents Observer

SwedenCopper mine in northern Sweden scales up resource estimates, The Independent Barents Observer

United StatesBiden admin goes back to drawing board on oil leasing in Arctic Refuge, Alaska Public Media

Liz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media

For more news from Alaska visit Alaska Public Media.

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