Alaska hires second outside law firm to fight Biden administration over Arctic National Wildlife Refuge leases

Republican Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration has hired a firm of contract attorneys to fight the Biden administration’s suspension of oil and gas development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, supplementing the hired attorneys who are already working on the case on behalf of the state economic development corporation. .

The company, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, won seven leases on the refuge’s coastal plain at an auction last year in the dying days of the Trump administration.

Biden, on his first day in office, ordered a halt to development-related activities at the refuge, and his Interior Department is now conducting a new environmental review of oil and gas activities there. AIDEA filed a lawsuit in federal court in November to try to lift the ban.

AIDEA already has its own outside law firm, Holland and Hart, representing the state-owned company in the case. But last week Dunleavy’s administration filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit as a separate entity, saying it has different and broader interests in AIDEA, with jobs and tax revenue at stake. .

Then on Tuesday, four attorneys from Denver-based Davis Graham & Stubbs registered with the court to represent the state in the case. They will be paid between $540 and $608 an hour, according to a copy of their contract with the Law Department, which was finalized Wednesday.

Funding for the contract, which is capped at $250,000, comes from a $4 million multi-year budget increase that lawmakers gave the legal department last year for “defense of the state.” The contract is “meant to be a relief valve” for the Justice Department and will cover more than the Arctic Refuge lawsuit, said department spokesman Aaron Sadler.

“With the myriad of federal litigation we are involved in due to the exponential increase in federal actions that negatively impact Alaska, it was necessary to bring in additional resources to assist in these efforts and effectively represent the sovereign interests of Alaska to responsibly manage and develop its resources,” Sadler said in an email. “That’s why the State of Alaska stands as a separate part of AIDEA — AIDEA is a public corporation representing its own interests. The state represents the sovereign and landowner interests of the state.

A Home Office spokeswoman declined to comment.

Dunleavy’s administration has also intervened separately from AIDEA in a case where conservation groups are challenging environmental approvals for a proposed road to a mining district in northwest Alaska – although in that lawsuit the State has not registered outside lawyers.

Department asks lawmakers for an additional $4 million for state defense in Dunleavy’s new budget proposal; the credit, like last year’s, would cover spending until mid-2025.

In a mid-year update to legislative budget analysts, the legal department said last year’s post helped pay for work on 13 legal issues, though it didn’t provide a list.

Opponents of oil development in the haven have called the Dunleavy administration’s hiring of its new law firm a questionable use of state money.

“Despite all the talk about jobs in Alaska, it’s bizarre to see the state spending on expensive outside attorneys to defend this illegal lease sale,” says Emily Sullivan, Arctic program manager at the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, the one of the conservation groups that filed a complaint. separate lawsuit challenging the oil in the refuge. “There are so many ways the state could support Alaskans: by strengthening our existing infrastructure to better prepare for the impacts of climate change, by developing equitable access to telecommunications as we enter the third year of a pandemic , diversifying our energy network and our economy. . Unfortunately, Governor Dunleavy, in his State of the State address, reiterated once again that he cannot imagine Alaska as anything other than an energy colony, and that seems to be an expression of this failing leadership.

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