Federal Judge Stops Trump Environmental Policy In It’s Tracks


Federal Judge Sharon Gleason has stopped an oil drilling project approved by the Trump administration in its tracks. The project would involve development in Alaska’s North Slope, and according to Gleason, federal authorities had failed to adequately examine the potential impacts from the effort on the local environment. Thus, Gleason has set aside the permits for the project, which were issued during the Trump administration but were, for whatever reason, defended by the Biden administration.

Specifically, Gleason “wrote in her ruling that the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service incorrectly approved the project because they failed to adequately analyze its climate impact and other possible development plans, and didn’t specify how polar bears would be protected,” The Washington Post explains. According to the judge, the environmental impact statements for the proposed drilling project that were prepared by federal authorities did not meet the standards required by the National Environmental Policy Act and the Environmental Protection Act. Gleason’s ruling follows a preliminary injunction against the project issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in February of this year.

Gleason “found that the [U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service] didn’t adequately specify how the operation could hurt [polar] bears or what measures would be in place to protect them,” and the judge also uncovered how “the Bureau of Land Management relied on a model for estimating the project’s overall greenhouse gas emissions that had already been rejected in another case,” The Washington Post says. Comprehensively examining the possibilities of alternatives to a given project along these lines is part of the required environmental impact assessment process as well, but authorities failed on that front too, according to the judge’s assessment. These are “serious” issues, the judge noted. As she put it: “As to the errors found by the Court, they are serious.”

Bridget Psarianos, who works as a staff attorney with Trustees for Alaska and whose organization represented half a dozen interests tied to the case, commented to The Washington Post that her organization and their clients “are just celebrating that there’s not going to be any Willow construction this winter.” (Willow is the name for the proposed drilling project.) She added that the “project can’t move forward without a significant amount of redoing” — a hopeful sign for those concerned about the effort’s environmental impacts.

Elsewhere, the Biden administration has undertaken different steps to curtail potential environmental damage. The New York Times reported in July that Biden’s administration was “moving to restore full environmental protections for Tongass National Forest in Alaska, reversing an attempt by former President Donald J. Trump to introduce logging and mining in pristine sections of one of the world’s largest intact temperate rain forests.” Biden’s team has also announced plans for an updated rule regarding federal oversight of waterways, undoing an effort by the Trump administration to lessen the range of waterways under federal protection.