Last week, the North Slope Borough filed a federal lawsuit to challenge the Biden administration’s rule for the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A).

In an effort that has pleased President Biden’s radical environmental base, the Department of Interior’s (DOI) recently finalize the NPR-A Rule, which drastically limits oil, gas and infrastructure development across much of the NPR-A, turning millions of acres into highly protected zones that preclude development and even many subsistence activities.

This is a region specifically set aside by Congress to foster America’s energy security while generating economic revenue across Alaska. The area is estimated to contain 8.7 billion barrels of oil and 25 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

The North Slope suit alleges that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released its final rule in violation of requirements for meaningful consultation of tribes and without adequate assessment of the economic impact the new restrictions would have on local communities.

“The rule would significantly and irrevocably harm the North Slope’s right to self-determination and ability to provide essential services for residents,” a July 8 notice about the suit states. “This suit is filed alongside the complaints of the Voice of the Arctic Inupiat and the State of Alaska, demonstrating the unity of North Slope communities and Alaskans in opposing the BLM’s unjust and unilateral action to harm the livelihoods of the residents of the North Slope.”

This latest lawsuit comes on the heels of a separate suit filed by the State of Alaska last week, which aims to recover lost revenues from nine canceled federal oil and gas leases covering lands on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s Coastal Plain.

North Slope Borough Mayor Josiah Patkotak

North Slope Borough Mayor Josiah Patkotak said he was compelled to take legal action.

“When I was sworn in as Mayor of the North Slope Borough, I made a solemn promise to protect and provide essential services for the people of the North Slope Borough,” he said in a prepared statement. “The BLM claims to act on our behalf but what they are truly doing is undermining my ability to fulfill that fiduciary obligation.”

Mayor Patkotak added: “We on the North Slope don’t have the luxury of keeping quiet and waiting for a new industry to swoop in and replace our largest economic driver. We have to speak up for our future as a people.”

The North Slope Borough encompasses the entirety of the NPR-A, and represents the ancestral homelands of the Inupiat people. The borough is also the largest employer in the region and provides the majority of essential services depended upon by residents, including public safety services, utilities, education, public health services and wildlife and subsistence management. These services are funded by taxes on infrastructure within the Borough – accounting for 95% of the borough’s revenue.

The borough maintains that the BLM rule will dramatically affect area residents. Additionally, it claims that federal government “failed to engage the local government with jurisdiction and enforcement responsibilities, tribes, regional associations, and communities themselves.”

“Had the BLM consulted with the people most impacted by this rule, they would have learned how crucial economic opportunity is for preservation of Inupiaq culture,” a statement from the borough noted. “Without jobs, housing or economic development, the people of the North Slope will be forced to leave their ancestral lands, leaving behind the traditions and language that are the bedrock of the culture.”

To date, members of the North Slope Iñupiat Tribes, village corporations, regional corporations and their elected leaders have been unanimous in their opposition to the rule.

In light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Loper, which removed the “Chevron Deference,” doctrine gives wide latitude to federal agencies to interpret ambiguous law, the North Slope Borough is now taking proactive steps to incorporate this precedent into its own regulatory framework.

“By aligning our policies with this landmark decision, we aim to ensure that our administrative actions and interpretations of ambiguous statutes are carried out with a heightened level of judicial scrutiny,” the lawsuit notice added. “This approach underscores our commitment to transparency, legal integrity, and the protection of our community’s rights and resources. Furthermore, the Borough remains steadfast in its adherence to NEPA and the Regulatory Flexibility Act, ensuring that environmental and economic impacts are thoroughly assessed and that small entities are considered in the rule-making process.”

Click here to support Alaska Watchman reporting.

North Slope Borough sues Biden admin over environmental rule that threatens Native culture

Joel Davidson
Joel is Editor-in-Chief of the Alaska Watchman. Joel is an award winning journalist and has been reporting for over 24 years, He is a proud father of 8 children, and lives in Palmer, Alaska.

1 Comment

  • George says:

    Interior Secretary diversity hire Deb Haaland has made herself an enemy of the Navajo Dine tribe too by shutting down oil and gas industry that they depend on.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *