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Court rejects Trump's Arctic offshore oil-drilling project in 'huge victory for polar bears'

"This project was a disaster waiting to happen that should never have been approved," said Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Court rejects Trump's Arctic offshore oil-drilling project in 'huge victory for polar bears'
Cover Image Source: Getty Images (representative)

While President Donald Trump has seen little to no luck with the judicial system in the days following the 2020 presidential election, climate action advocates and wildlife defenders now have a lot to celebrate. Earlier this month, the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit landed a major blow to the Trump administration's plans to auction drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR)'s coastal plain when it overturned approval for the Liberty Project. Environmental groups have strongly opposed the proposal from the time it was approved by the administration in October 2018 as experts warned that the project would endanger local communities, animals, and the environment.




According to CBC, the appeals court in its decision agreed with environmental groups that said the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management review was inadequate. The judges stated that the agency should have quantified the proposed oil and gas production well's greenhouse gas emissions and the impact of oil produced and sent overseas. They also faulted the US Fish & Wildlife Service for not estimating the non-lethal impact drilling would have on polar bears. "This is a huge victory for polar bears and our climate," declared Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement.




"This project was a disaster waiting to happen that should never have been approved. I'm thrilled the court saw through the Trump administration's attempt to push this project through without carefully studying its risks," Monsell added. Marcie Keever, legal director at Friends of the Earth, also applauded the ruling, saying that "thankfully, the court put the health of our children and our planet over oil company profits. We will continue to fight against future oil and gas projects in the Arctic." Meanwhile, Earthjustice attorney Jeremy Lieb heavily criticized the Trump administration for even considering such a project at a time when our sole focus should be combating climate change, not adding on to the crisis.




"I’m pleased that the court today rejected the administration’s inaccurate and misleading analysis of this project’s impact to the climate," said Lieb. "In the face of a worsening climate crisis, the federal government should not be in the business of approving irresponsible offshore oil development in the Arctic. The world cannot afford to develop new oil prospects anywhere, but especially in the Arctic where warming is already taking such a significant toll."




Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska program director at Defenders of Wildlife, promised to continue the fight against drilling in the Arctic and protect the polar bears. "Today's news is a victory for Alaska’s imperiled polar bears that are threatened by oil and gas development throughout virtually all of their terrestrial denning critical habitat ─ in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, and in the nearshore marine environment as well," she said. "Defenders will continue our fight against destructive oil and gas drilling and for the survival of polar bears in the Arctic." Tim Donaghy, a senior research specialist at Greenpeace, called upon the upcoming Biden administration to keep its promise to join the climate crisis fight while stressing its urgency.




"The ruling affirms that the US must take steps to transition off of oil and gas if we are to have any hope of halting the climate crisis," he said. "If we are going to create a just, green, and peaceful future, it must start with rejecting destructive projects like Liberty. Climate action must happen now and the Biden administration needs to keep its promise to halt any new oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters." On the other hand, the Trump administration seems determined to push polar bears further down the path to extinction before leaving office as it recently proposed an "incidental harassment authorization" that would allow companies searching for oil and gas deposits in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to disrupt polar bears living there.




According to Reuters, "the Fish and Wildlife Service said that no polar bears are expected to be injured or killed during seismic operations, some of which are scheduled to take place next month, and expects disturbances to impact only a few bears. But several veteran Arctic scientists and environmentalists in Alaska have warned against seismic operations – which can involve blasting to produce sonic images of underground formations. They argue the testing will upset wildlife and that the heavy machinery and activity involved in the work will damage tundra and speed up the thaw of permafrost."

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