On April 23, 1999 Trustees for Alaska, successfully argued in State Superior Court for the temporary stay of the sale of 70 tracts in the Cook Inlet Areawide Lease Sale. The 70 tracts in question are critical beluga habitat. The court granted the stay, ruling that “the potential environmental harm that the appellants might suffer if the sale were allowed to go forward outweighs any potential financial loss that the state might suffer from a temporary postponement.”
The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) admitted to potential significant harm to beluga whales in its Final Best Interest Finding. DNR noted that contaminants ingested by pregnant beluga whales are readily passed from mother to fetus, that gas blowouts would kill marine mammals in the immediate vicinity; and that beluga whales would be at risk of injury if oil spills were to occur. DNR has repeatedly refused to delete the tracts in question from the lease sale despite information from the National Marine Fisheries Service and the public that these areas are important feeding and calving areas.
Presented with these potential impacts, the court noted that “given the Cook Inlet belugas’ scarce numbers and present state of decline, it is conceivable that harm to their population could drive them into extinction.” Such harm would be difficult to measure by any pecuniary standards since beluga whales are “a unique natural resource.” The court recognized that “harm to the Cook Inlet Beluga whale population would certainly be irreparable in the legal sense, as well as being irreparable in fact.”
Trustees for Alaska is representing Cook Inlet Keeper, Alaska Center for the Environment, Alaska Community Action on Toxics, Alaska Waveriders, Kachemak Bay Conservation Society and the Alaska Chapter of the Sierra Club in the ongoing litigation over the Cook Inlet Areawide oil and gas lease sale.