The Alaska Supreme Court has rejected claims by environmentalists and Native American groups that the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is required to undertake a best-interest finding review “at each step of a phased [oil and gas project] to satisfy the constitution.” Sullivan v. Resisting Envtl. Destruction on Indigenous Lands, No. S-14216 (Alaska 3/29/13). The groups challenged best-interest findings made in connection with planned oil and gas leases through 2018 in the Beaufort Sea.
An intermediate appellate court had ruled that the agency must prepare written best-interest findings because it has a duty to examine cumulative impacts. The Alaska Supreme Court held, however, that best-interest findings are not required at each stage of the leasing process, saying “We agree with DNR that it would be unreasonable to speculate about possible future effects of the project before more information about the project is known.” It held, however, that DNR must make best-interest findings on cumulative impacts during subsequent phases of the development process in keeping with a constitutional requirement to take a “continuing hard look” at development impacts.