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Native Village of Nuiqsut v. Bureau of Land Management

ELR Citation: 50 ELR 20019
Nos. 3:19-cv-0056-SLG, (D. Alaska, 01/09/2020) (Gleason. J.)

A district court denied a request to invalidate BLM's approval of exploratory drilling in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A). Environmental groups and a Native village first argued that BLM's EA failed to account for significant impacts to caribou and subsistence activities, in violation of NEPA. The court found the EA reasonably concluded that drilling would not affect local herd distribution or reduce local populations, and that subsistence impacts would be moderate and short term. Further, by tiering to EISs that fully analyzed these issues, the EA provided a convincing reason for why further analysis was unnecessary. Thus, BLM's issuance of a FONSI with respect to impacts to caribou and subsistence activities was neither arbitrary nor capricious. Plaintiffs next argued that the EA failed to consider the cumulative impacts of drilling on caribou and subsistence activities. The court again found the EA took the requisite hard look and that its tiering to previous EISs provided a convincing justification for why further discussion was unnecessary. Lastly, plaintiffs argued the EA failed to consider appropriate alternatives, including those that would reduce the impact to subsistence uses of the affected areas, in violation of NEPA and the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). The court found the EA's consideration of only the preferred alternative and a no-action alternative was permissible under both statutes, and thus that the decision to eliminate plaintiffs' proposed alternatives from consideration was neither arbitrary nor capricious. It therefore upheld the EA and record of decision authorizing exploratory drilling in the NPR-A.