Obama-appointed judge strikes permits for multibillion-dollar Alaska oil project

During his time as president of the United States, Barack Obama appointed more than 300 judges to various posts across the federal judiciary. Now, it seems one of Obama’s judicial appointments is coming back to bite the Democratic Party in a major way.

In a ruling handed down last week, Anchorage-based U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason threw out permits for what The New York Times described as “an expansive oil drilling project” in Alaska that the Biden administration had fought to defend in court.

The permits were sought by a company called ConocoPhillips for a multibillion-dollar project known as Willow, which the Times said was meant “to produce more than 100,000 barrels of oil a day for the next 30 years.”

The project was given the green light under former President Donald Trump, and Biden’s Justice Department had reportedly fought for it in court.

Permits: Thrown out

According to a report from Bloomberg, opposers had said that plans for the project “failed to adequately protect polar bears” and that in its initial review of the permit applications, the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) failed to account for potential impacts of the project on local wildlife and global climate change.

In particular, the BLM hadn’t considered greenhouse gas emissions, an omission Judge Gleason called “arbitrary and capricious,” according to the Times.

According to Alaska Public Media, Gleason’s 110-page decision “sets aside the project’s approval by the Bureau of Land Management.”

“It also vacates a formal opinion by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that said the project was unlikely to jeopardize polar bears’ continued existence and unlikely to harm their critical habitat,” the outlet reported.

The judge said that though ConocoPhillips would face “considerable economic consequences” as a result of her ruling, “the Court is also cognizant that construction at Willow has not yet commenced.” Thus, she remanded the issue of the permits back to their respective federal agencies to re-evaluate.

Environmentalists celebrate

Unsurprisingly, environmentalists heralded Gleason’s ruling. In a statement to the Associated Press, Karlin Itchoak, who heads the Alaska chapter of The Wilderness Society, said the decision marked “a step toward protecting public lands and the people who would be most negatively impacted by the BLM’s haphazard greenlighting of the Willow project.”

Others weren’t so pleased. Alaska’s Republican governor, Mike Dunleavy, said in a statement of his own last week that the ruling, which he said “shelve[s] a major oil project on American soil,” will outsource oil production “to dictatorships [and] terrorist organizations.” He went on:

This is a horrible decision. We are giving America over to our enemies piece by piece. The Willow project would power America with 160,000 barrels a day, provide 1000s of family-supporting jobs, and greatly benefit the people of Alaska.

A spokesperson for ConocoPhillips said the group would “review the decision and evaluate the options available regarding this project,” according to Bloomberg.

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