Lawsuits call out Trump agencies

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We took the Trump administration to court twice in a week.

One lawsuit challenges an Interior land swap aimed at putting a road in Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. USFWS photo.

We first called out federal agencies for violating the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by withholding public information relating to oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

A week later, we sued the Trump administration for the second time for executing a new and terribly unimproved land swap deal aimed at bulldozing a road through the heart of Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and its Wilderness.

Information is power

The FOIA lawsuit centers on nine information requests relating to the Arctic Refuge, seeking information used to produce the draft environmental impact statement for proposed lease sales. The requests also seek communications and records produced during the 2018–2019 government shutdown, and related to the Porcupine Caribou Treaty between the United States and Canada.

The failure of agencies to produce a single document within the timeframe established by law shows a disregard for public transparency. These agencies have provided no documents to date, despite some requests dating back to 2018.

One FOIA request relates to the Porcupine Caribou Herd Treaty between the U.S. and Canada. USFWS photo.

“Withholding information from the public is an act of power-hording that endangers our democracy,” said Trustees for Alaska attorney Maresa Jenson. “Our clients requested this information in order to inform the public and protect public interests in the Arctic Refuge, and they have a right to demand that they get it.”

Breaking the law, one land swap after another

The second lawsuit filed in early August re-ups a previous court case we won.

Last March, the District Court threw out an Interior Department land swap deal aimed at giving an ecologically rich and irreplaceable isthmus in Izembek Refuge to King Cove Corporation for construction of a road.  After losing in court, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt executed a new deal in July without public knowledge or input to do essentially the same thing.

The new deal no longer pretends that the proposed road is about health, safety, and non-commercial purposes; it makes it clear that commercial interests could use the road without limitation.

“This deal violates the same laws as the first one and fails to address the deep-seated legal problems at its core,” said Trustees for Alaska attorney Bridget Psarianos. “This is another Trump administration public land giveaway that breaks multiple laws and dishonors the public processes that go into protecting the health of the lands, waters and wildlife of the National Refuge and Wilderness System.”

Black brandt stop during migration to feed on the rich eelgrass beds in Izembek Lagoon. Photo by USFWS

When agencies use process to exploit

Both lawsuits aim to uphold the laws put in place to protect wildlife habitat, wilderness, and the purposes defined by Congress when establishing these public land systems. These lawsuits also seek to protect the right to public involvement in administrative actions that significantly affect our public lands.  

Alaska is not an industrial warehouse for outside oil, gas, and commercial seafood interests—it is a place we call home, a place that nourishes life, a place that contains intact natural systems that have supported wildlife and human communities for thousands of years. We’ll fight to protect it, no matter how many times we need to take Trump to court.

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