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Court Thwarts Alaska Bid to Explore ANWR Coastal Plain

Alaska may not conduct 3-D seismic exploration and drilling in the 1.5-million coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), according to a U.S. District Court ruling issued in Alaska Tuesday. It is the latest blow to the state's long-running effort to assess the area's resource potential.

Last year Alaska filed a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's (USFWS) refusal to consider the state's exploration plan for the coastal plain, or 1002 Area, of ANWR (see Daily GPIMarch 14, 2014). The state in its complaint asserted that exploring the 1002 area was mandated by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) and is still authorized today, despite the USFWS director's assertion that his agency did not have authority to review the state plan.

The state's exploration plan was submitted to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell two years ago (see Daily GPI, July 10, 2013). It was rejected by Interior later the same month (see Daily GPIAug. 22, 2013; July 30, 2013).

The USFWS position was primarily based on a legal opinion, issued by the Interior solicitor in the final days of the Clinton administration, claiming that the relevant provisions of ANILCA had expired. The court found that while ANILCA was "ambiguous," Jewell's interpretation of it was "based on a permissible and reasonable construction of the statute."

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