40 Years of Defending Alaska – 1974-2014
1974-1984: The First Decade
Beirne Homestead Initiative
Trustees for Alaska challenged the constitutionality of the Beirne Homestead Initiative, which would have given away 30 million acres of state land. The Alaska Supreme Court found it unconstitutional that Alaska residents of three years or more could acquire 40 to 160 acres without land-use planning, restrictions limiting speculation, or even having stepped on the property. The Alaska landscape would have been forever changed if this Initiative had become law.
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Trustees for Alaska forced former Secretary of the Interior James Watt to rescind transfer of management authority over the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the U.S. Geological Survey, which would have aided oil development in the Arctic Refuge. Later, we challenged the Department of the Interior’s attempt to trade lands on the Refuge’s coastal plain to Native corporations in Alaska. The Department’s “Mega-Trade,” as it became known, was an attempt to bypass Congress to open the Arctic Refuge to oil development.
Susitna Hydroelectric Project
Trustees for Alaska challenged the Alaska Power Authority’s approval of the Susitna Hydroelectric Project in proceedings before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The massive pork-barrel project, which would have had potentially disastrous effects on Cook Inlet salmon populations and cost the State of Alaska billions of dollars, was abandoned.
1984-1994: The Second Decade
The Alaska Supreme Court ruled that hardrock minerals, such as gold or copper, that underlie state lands are public resources and the public should receive a direct financial benefit from the exploitation of those resources based on a Trustees for Alaska challenge. The court required the State to establish payment of rents and royalties for these resources. Prior to the decision, hardrock minerals were basically given away, unlike oil, gas or coal.
Trustees for Alaska blocked an attempted sale of offshore oil and gas leases in the Beaufort Sea near the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Alaska Supreme Court found that the Department of Natural Resources failed to adequately consider the potential impact on the Porcupine Caribou Herd.
Diamond-Chuitna Coal Mine
Trustees for Alaska stopped the permitting of the Diamond Coal Project in the Beluga coal field in Western Cook Inlet. The Alaska Supreme Court found the Department of Natural Resources failed to permit and conduct a cumulative environmental impact assessment of Diamond’s entire mining operation, not just the strip mine portion. The project went dormant until 2006.
1994-2004: The Third Decade
Eyak Traditional Elders Council
The Alaska Supreme Court held that the Eyak Traditional Elders Council was not seeking any financial windfall in challenging a timber clear-cutting proposal, but rather trying to protect their native culture. Trustees for Alaska successfully argued that the Council qualified as a public interest litigant and was therefore not liable for attorney fees. The Court’s opinion recognized that native culture, and its protection, cannot be viewed in monetary terms.
Tidelands and Coastal Waters
The Supreme Court ruled that the tidelands and coastal waters of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska did not belong to Alaska under the Statehood Act. This favorable decision prevented the State from opening those coastal waters to oil and gas leasing, as well as forestalling significant developmental inroads from being made into the Arctic Refuge and National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. Trustees for Alaska represented amici curiae “friends of the court” in the case, taking a broader position than the Federal government, which would have settled for some lands transferring to the State. Instead, Trustees’ position convinced a majority of the Court.
Steller Sea Lions
Trustees for Alaska challenged a National Marine Fisheries Service Fishery Management Plan for groundfish fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea to protect critical habitat for Steller sea lions. The court determined that the National Marine Fisheries Service violated the Endangered Species Act when it set fish harvest quotas without evaluating impacts to the endangered Steller sea lions. This case set an important precedent for science-based fish management decisions.
Trustees for Alaska negotiated a settlement with the operators of oil facilities in Alaska’s Cook Inlet to end the citizen suits we brought against them for nearly 4,000 violations of their Clean Water Act discharge permits committed between 1987 and 1992. In the settlement, the operators agreed to end their unlawful discharges and pay $895,000 to establish Cook Inletkeeper, an independent, citizen-based water quality monitoring and protection program. The settlement was one of the largest in the history of the Clean Water Act.
2004-2014: The Fourth Decade
Cook Inlet beluga whales gained endangered species status in 2008, ten years after Trustees for Alaska initially filed a petition for their protection. Development projects in Cook Inlet now must meet federal standards limiting activities that could harm these small white whales.
Trustees for Alaska won a victory for the Wilderness Act before an 11-judge “en banc” panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The court unanimously found that a commercial salmon enhancement project in Tustumena Lake was a clear violation of Wilderness.
Trustees for Alaska brought the lawsuit that established that the constitutional principle of sustained yield applies to predators as well as prey. This means that intensive wildlife management programs must protect predator as well as prey populations. Trustees also stopped the last attempt by the State of Alaska to reinstitute bounties on predators.
Analyzing Oil and Gas Projects at All Phases
Trustees for Alaska challenged the most recent 10-year Best Interest Finding for Beaufort Sea lease sales because there is no evaluation of environmental impacts at all phases of oil and gas development. The Alaska Supreme Court held that the State of Alaska must consider cumulative impacts at all stages of oil and gas development, not just the paper transaction of leasing.
2015 & Beyond
Pebble Mine suffers a brutal defeat and Bristol Bay will never see a large-scale mining operation within its salmon-bearing watersheds.
The Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is designated Wilderness and forever protected from damaging oil and gas development.
Coal mining regulations tighten and industry abandons proposed strip mining projects. Alaska’s coal stays in the ground and not contributing to global greenhouse gas emissions.
Trustees for Alaska still going strong defending Alaska’s lands, waters, wildlife and people.
INVEST IN THE NEXT 40 YEARS!