In the March 29th decision of Sullivan v. Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands (REDOIL), the Supreme Court of Alaska held that the Alaska Constitution requires only one “best interest finding” (that an oil or gas project is in the state’s best interest) to be made before a lease is issued, though subsequent permitting decisions must be made after a “hard look” that considers cumulative impacts.

In reaching its first holding that best interest findings are required prior to a leasing decision, the Supreme Court rejected the premise that each phase of a project could be considered a distinct disposal of an interest in state land.  The Court found that only leases convey property interests, and thus involve disposals of interests in state land.  The Court stated that after a lease is issued, “there are no additional property rights to be conveyed at the later phases”.

The Court went on in the decision to reject the State’s argument that only statutes, not the Alaska constitution, require the State to consider cumulative impacts when it subsequently considers permitting decisions.  Specifically, a “whole-project analysis” that “takes into account all aspects of a project, considered as a whole and its existing development context”, is required by Article VIII of the Alaska Constitution’s mandate that the State’s natural resources are to be made “available for maximum use consistent with the public interest”.

To read the decision, go here.