2014: The Year in Review

Dec 22, 2014
Lisa Oakley

Looking back over the last twelve months, Trustees for Alaska and everyone who loves Alaska have a lot to celebrate. Trustees had successes and worked on cases in the far corners of the state, from Bristol Bay to Izembek, the Arctic to Resurrection Bay and Cook Inlet. Here are the largest achievements this year:

Photo courtesy of (c) Carl H. Johnson.

Bristol Bay salmon boat. Photo (c) Carl H. Johnson.

The waters of Bristol Bay are protected from oil and gas development! President Obama protected Bristol Bay, “one of America’s greatest natural resources and a massive economic engine” and “beautiful natural wonder” from oil and gas activities. Trustees for Alaska provided legal services to a broad coalition that worked for a decade to achieve this permanent protection.

The legal fight to protect Bristol Bay from large-scale mining continues. Pebble Limited Partnership has filed several lawsuits questioning the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to protect clean water. Trustees for Alaska, representing Nunamta Aulukestai, intervened to support EPA in Pebble’s and the State of Alaska’s failed attempt to undermine that authority. Pebble is attempting to thwart EPA with other lawsuits as well, which means our work will continue, and will not stop as long as mining threatens the bay.

The prospect of a Road to Ambler dimmed considerably when its funding was put on the chopping block for this year’s budget after Alaskans spoke loudly and clearly against the road. And it was revealed that one of the mining companies in the Ambler area, NovaCopper is financially on the rocks.

Black brandt at Izembek Lagoon. USFWS Photo

Black brandt at Izembek Lagoon. USFWS Photo

Wilderness protections remain for an internationally important waterfowl migration stop in Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, as the proposed land swap and road from King Cove to Cold Bay was nixed by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. Trustees for Alaska worked with a coalition of conservation groups to provide legal comments on decision documents, including the extensive Environmental Impact Statement for the project. We are now defending that decision in court on behalf of coalition groups.

Seward Coal Loading Facility required to keep dirty coal out of Resurrection Bay. The US Court of Appeals unanimously decided the Seward Coal Loading Facility was violating the Clean Water Act by unpermitted discharges of coal into the bay. Trustees for Alaska advocated to the three judge panel for our clients, Alaska Community Action on Toxics and the Alaska Chapter of the Sierra Club, to overturn the district court’s application of a permitting loophole.

Yukon River sunset. NPS Photo

Yukon River sunset. NPS Photo

The National Park Service continues to have enforcement authority over navigable waters within its boundaries after two separate cases, Wilde and Sturgeon, lost their appeals to the US Court of Appeals over their illegal actions within Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve. Trustees for Alaska filed amicus curiae briefs on behalf of the National Parks Conservation Association defending the Park Service’s authority, which is a win for national parks in Alaska and across the country.

Alaska’s punitive “loser pays” rule for legal challenges to coal mining was knocked down by the federal Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement in response to Trustees for Alaska’s petition that the rule makes the State’s coal mining program inconsistent with federal requirements. Alaskans shouldn’t be penalized for using the law to stop destructive coal mining practices harmful to our salmon streams and our health.

Colville River Delta. Photo © Gary Braasch

Colville River Delta. Photo © Gary Braasch

A Federal judge ruled the US Army Corps of Engineers violated the law when it approved a permit for an oil and gas project bridge and road in the Colville River Delta. The court held that the Corps failed to consider all the impacts from the project in the ecologically valuable area used for subsistence by the village of Nuiqsut.

House Bill 77, the Silencing Alaskans Act was defeated! Trustees for Alaska worked alongside the conservation community to defeat the proposed legislation which would have cut ordinary Alaskans out of natural resource decisions. This collective success let the State Administration and Legislature know loud and clear that we will not allow them to silence our voices.

Even with our recent victories, more challenges lie ahead. There is much more work to be done. Your help is needed for us to defend Alaska. Your financial contributions allow us to focus on our clients and protecting Alaska. We can’t defend Alaska’s lands, waters, wildlife, and people without you.

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