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Alaska Seeking Intervenor Status in Arctic Oil, NatGas Leasing Lawsuit

The State of Alaska has asked to intervene in a lawsuit that environmental groups filed last May against the Trump administration for possibly opening the Beaufort and Chukchi seas to offshore oil and natural gas leasing.

The state filed a motion on Thursday In U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska to intervene in support of an executive order (EO) Trump signed last April. The EO directed the Department of Interior (DOI) to consider allowing oil and gas leasing in several Outer Continental Shelf (OCS areas, including the Atlantic and Arctic oceans, the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, Alaska's Cook Inlet and the Gulf of Mexico (GOM). The case is League of Conservation Voters et al v. Trump et al [No. 3:17-cv-101].

"In filing this motion, our objective is to make sure that the State of Alaska has future development opportunities in the Arctic Outer Continental Shelf," said Alaska Gov. Bill Walker. "State agencies routinely balance environmental conservation and protection with responsible resource development, and the Arctic OCS is no different. This gives the state a unique stake in the outcome of this litigation, and puts us in the best position to defend those interests."

Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Andy Mack said "federal law recognizes that input from coastal states is the cornerstone of access to these resources. Access to them should not be limited without consultation with the state and local governments."

The EO directed DOI Secretary Ryan Zinke to "give full consideration to revising the schedule of proposed oil and gas lease sales" so as to include, to the maximum extent possible, several OCS planning areas, which are managed by DOI's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).

Specifically, the EO calls for annual lease sales in the Western GOM, Central GOM, Beaufort Sea, Chukchi Sea, Cook Inlet, Mid-Atlantic and South Atlantic planning areas. It also orders DOI to ensure that any changes do not affect ongoing lease sales currently scheduled as part of the BOEM's OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2017-2022, which was finalized last November during the Obama administration.

President Obama removed the Beaufort and Chukchi seas from the five-year leasing program, but at the time kept 10 potential lease sales in the GOM and the Cook Inlet. One month later, a presidential memorandum withdrew 115 million acres in the Arctic OCS and 3.8 million acres in the north and mid-Atlantic OCS from future drilling.

Ten environmental groups filed a lawsuit in May, shortly after Trump signed the EO. They are the League of Conservation Voters; the Natural Resources Defense Council; the Sierra Club; the Alaska Wilderness League; Defenders of Wildlife; the Northern Alaska Environmental Center; Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands; the Center for Biological Diversity; Greenpeace Inc., and the Wilderness Society.

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