Will Judge Gleason allow ghost group to spook Alaska’s future with Willow?


Federal District Court Judge Sharon Gleason is expected to rule sometime in the next 12 days on the merits of lawsuits filed against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management against the already-approved North Slope Willow Project, which has been held up for years by bureaucracy and lawsuits.

Gleason’s decision, whether it goes for or against the ConocoPhillips project, is due Nov. 10, at the start of the winter construction season in the Arctic.

After the Biden Administration approved the project in March, two environmental groups started litigating against the BLM, the authorizing agency. 

The plaintiffs are Sovereign Inupiat for a Living Arctic, an Alaska tribal advocacy entity that strives for an end to fossil fuels, and the Center for Biological Diversity, which represents a consortium of national environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council and EarthJustice.

Sovereign Inupiat for a Living Arctic is a bit of a phantom club, which isn’t formal enough to be an actual organization.

In fact, the SILA group has no legal documentation on file with the Internal Revenue Service, and yet has been granted by the court a role as a legitimate plaintiff with standing in this case. Where it gets its funding from is a mystery — there are no IRS Form 990s on file, and although it supposedly has two staff members, it’s not operating as a normal group. It’s acting as a pop-up.

SILA, as it is also known, describes itself as being “housed” at the Northern Environmental Justice Center. Anyone who has a mind to donate to Sovereign Inupiat for a Living Arctic must actually donate to the Northern Environmental Justice Center, because the SILA group also appears to have no actual bank accounts of its own. Donors are instructed to write “SILA” on the memo line of their checks.

But here’s the problem: One of the requirements that courts have, in reference to Article III of the U.S. Constitution that establishes the judicial branch, is that a plaintiff must have “standing” to bring a case in federal court.

In 1992, the Court tightened the Article III standing test into what it is today, with more stringent requirements for what constitutes “injury in fact.” As the Court wrote in Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife:

“First, the plaintiff must have suffered an ‘injury in fact — an invasion of a legally protected interest which is (a) concrete and particularized and (b) ‘actual or imminent, not ‘conjectural’ or ‘hypothetical[.]’’ Second, there must be a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of—the injury has to be ‘fairly … trace[able] to the challenged action of the defendant, and not … th[e] result [of] the independent action of some third party not before the court. Third, it must be ‘likely,’ as opposed to merely ‘speculative,’ that the injury will be ‘redressed by a favorable decision.'”

It’s not clear how a group that doesn’t actually exist, and cannot even reveal its funders or financials can make that case to have standing.

SILA is associated with the Build Back Fossil Free coalition of hard-left groups trying to push President Joe Biden into using his executive order powers to ban fossil fuels. But it’sAs far as its membership in Build Back Fossil Free, that coalition is a project of the Sustainable Markets Foundation, which is bankrolled by major leftists foundations such as the Rockefeller Family FundTides Foundation, and TomKat Charitable Trust, the political foundation created by California Democrat mega-donor Tom Steyer and his wife.

Meanwhile, ConocoPhillips is said to have invested over $1 billion into the project, with another nearly $1 billion expected to be spent during this winter construction season — if it can go ahead.

Already, contractors across Alaska are in the fabrication stages of making equipment and culverts needed, and the company and its contractors intend to hire over 1,800 people this coming year. There is likely to be a mini-boom in the Alaska economy as a result, and first royalty oil flowing into the Trans Alaska Pipeline System by 2029.

But if Judge Gleason doesn’t meet her self-imposed decision date on Nov. 10, it’s possible the construction season will be lost this winter altogether. If Gleason rules in favor of the environmental groups, the team leaders of the ConocoPhillips Willow Project have said on the record it is unlikely that the project would ever move forward; the costs have been too great.

Earlier this year, Judge Gleason denied the plaintiffs an injunction that would stop ConocoPhillips from moving forward on preparations for construction, which may signal her doubts about the merits of the plaintiffs’ case. Either way, the decision will probably be appealed to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

But the question remains: How does a group like Sovereign Inupiat for a Living Arctic, which represents no more than a literal handful of fringe activists, get the nod for “standing” as a group if it cannot even register as a group? 

“Giving an organization that exists in name only, official legal status makes no sense, but neither does their fight against Willow,” noted Rick Whitbeck, state director of Power the Future.  “Willow has had robust environmental reviews under numerous administrations, has the support of our entire Congressional delegation, labor, trade associations and the full Alaska Legislative and Executive branches.  SILA and the other “plaintiffs” should expect Judge Gleason to follow the law and end their fight against this amazing project.

The group describes itself as “an organization of Iñupiat Peoples and community members that believe in a balanced Earth for future generations. We are guided by our principles, elders, and advisory board for a movement towards a sustainable, equitable society. This work is done through an intersectional lens that is inclusive and safe.” But it’s out of step with the rest of Alaska.

“The vast majority of Iñupiat – those not bought and paid for by radical environmental ideologues to put up a false argument against Willow and other Alaska development projects – support the balance between environmental stewardship and jobs and economic opportunities for our state,” Whitbeck said.  “SILA’s inability to even register as an official organization shows how Alaskans should view them: a fly-by-night organization with a misguided mission that would only harm our state’s bright economic future.”


  1. The legal elements for standing:

    . Injury in fact,
    . Causal connection,
    . not a speculative injury

    are difficult for the plaintiffs to prove, especially when the plaintiffs directly benefit from the development of fossil fuels. Unless they are all wearing handmade snowshoes, hunting with spears, and driving a dog team to their hunting and gathering sites, Judge Gleason should easily see that the hypocrisy is obvious as to their lifestyle derived from fossil fuels. Any ruling other than a direct denial of standing is inapposite to common sense and basic logic.

    • It’s our tools that have changed, and not our way of life. We’ve always adapted new technologies in our pursuit of game, to feed ourselves and stay alive. Many rural people still live that way, but you seem to see through such a harsh lens and are obviously uninformed about the majority of the Indigenous Peoples of this state, where you’re a short time guest, so to speak. It would help if you thought of us not only from within this singular entity you apparently feel by far superior to, and more entitled, than this fossil fuel native in your head that you’ve judged and dismissed as EveryNativeOutThere. We have political differences, and a long historical presence in this state. If you don’t like living where the Indigenous have land, resources, and political will, you’re in the wrong state.

      • Let’s seriously examine who invented these modern technologies:

        Snow mobiles.
        High powered rifles.
        Cellphones and satellite phones.
        Four wheelers.
        Thermal underwear.
        Indoor plumbing.
        Modern housing.
        Outboard motors.
        Crude oil refinement.
        Crude oil discovery.
        Steel fabrication.
        Fishing boats.
        Microwave ovens.
        Electric ranges.
        Weather forecasting.
        etc, etc, etc…..

        All invented by indiginous people in Alaska who sought an easier life. Right?

        • Brian; Well you didn’t invent any of those modern technologies, so how are you so different than Native people going to the store and buying what makes their life style more efficient?

          • Then they need to quit complaining about fossil fuels and climate change until they give up the good life. Unless you have been in the villages which I have you don’t understand that life. The bush areas might sound nice but without fossil fuels every village would disappear.

        • 3rd gets it exactly right. I guess if you’re the same RACE as someone who invented a piece of technology then you’re good to go. What is considered customary and traditional changes over time, regardless of race. These kind of arguments are so tired and more importantly, ignorant.

    • Does not matter.
      Lawfare of this type is designed to tie up the development, cost the developer millions (or more) and have them drop the project because it is too expensive to get that first shovel in the ground.
      If the judge says the plaintiffs have no standing, they will sue again with a different claim, or have a fellow organization sue. They know they will not win, they do not care. They want to make it too difficult and costly for the project to proceed.

  2. We if there is no willow project then we can stop subsidizing village fuel for power to light their houses so they won’t melt and they can live the life of their ancestors.

    • You all decimated the whales for this purpose, almost extincted them, to keep London’s streets lit while we starved by the thousands for your fuel needs back then.

      • Susie, happily a fellow named John D Rockefeller discovered Coal Oil, a much cheaper alternative to Whale Oil, thereby saving the whales and putting the New Bedford boys , savage killers of whales out of business. Apparently the Inupiaq people were also big winners after Rockefeller’s discovery too. Waaay too many Whales now and plenty of Yankee Greenbacks from petroleum revenue in the Isn’t that an amazing thing!
        Surely you must agree?

      • Susie don’t say you all because I have never been for killing whales like the alaskan indigenous people get to do. I was in point hope one year and 4 polar bears were killed in 5 days just because the locals could kill them.

    • Hopefully the Judge will do the right thing and kick this shadow group to the curb. They obviously have no standing in court and are just throwing a two-year old temper tantrum to get their way by ruining the business in Alaska. Obviously funded by out-of-state garbage!

  3. Interesting, do any of the Inupiaq people seeking a balanced future for a living Arctic have names and addresses? Who are they specifically? Do they live above the Arctic Circle? Do they drive Four Wheelers? Ride Snow Machines? Is their food flown to their Village in a Jet? Do they have Electricity and and a Toyo Stove? Many questions here…

      • Fools by definition do not belief in God. Asking rhetorical questions might sometimes be annoying, but can be a legitimate literary tool to make people think – if they know how.

    • Tim in Wasilla,
      Timmy, perhaps you should spend a couple of Winters north of the Arctic Circle. I think that your Rousseau image of things has completely clouded your thinking!

  4. Even without silly SILA there would still be annoying (off) Center for Biological Diversity & the case would move on right?
    What happens if Gleason allows this to go & the the 9th Circuit says no?
    Because the liberal 9th will say no right, they always do.

  5. Sad Downing that you relied on radical fossil fuel air dancer Rick Whitbeck. He should put sunscreen on his ostrich bum. He is the far far Other in this important discussion. Dismissing the voices of the Inupiat cuz they missed an IRS deadline suggests you love federal overreach when it suits you.

    The core of the issues should be evidence based and unemotional.

    • I’m an Inuk and am curious about this group that seeks to speak for us all, but if we don’t know their names and their histories, they don’t actually represent us without our free, prior, and informed consent.

    • Kind of a strange comment if you use any fossil fuel in your daily life surviving in Alaska . A person would not survive a week in Ak with out fuel . So now we are all radicals because we use fuel ? That’s absolutely positively nuts !

  6. Alaska Wilderness Society is one of the groups that oppose Willow and most other Alaska fossil fuel projects as well. They are part of the environmental group Wilderness Society that is run out of Washington DC. These environmental groups are heavily funded and hard to oppose. For some reason they have failed to take into account the health and living standards of Alaskans and people who live in northern climates who depend on fossil fuels to keep warm and run their vehicles and yes, deliver goods by plane to isolated communities. All this is part of the “Climate Crises” being used to stop food that keeps us healthy, such as rice (feeds 50% of the world population) and beef cattle and also milk cows. Right now Ireland is taking heat for not culling its milk cow herds to support “climate crises.” Does anyone remember reading about the Vikings having settlements on a Greenland (their name for it) that actually had green areas in 1000 AD? The point is that the earth has been much warmer than it is today but to see these groups operate as they are one would never know it. Should there not be more of a balance between usage and conservation than we have now? Or must we all be sentenced to eat grass and bugs as the World Economic Forum advocates? And why do I suspect that the billionaires that control that august body will still be eating their beef, rice, and special dishes while starving the rest of humanity down to the 95% less population today?

  7. Willow Project has turned into another ANWR . Meanwhile 500,000 barrels of daily oil production sits in the ground on State lands on the North Slope with little or no investment capital . Producing our oil for the benefit of Alaskans is like a court denying water access for East Africans . It’s essential for life in Alaska .

    The state of Alaska could do more to drive investment capital to the NorthSlope by building year around roads to where the oil is .

    I am dumbfounded after working in the oil industry for 35 years that PtThomson does not have a year around access road if not to just clean up an oil spill . TAPS has year around access to all of about four miles of the entire 800 miles . Be nearly impossible to clean up a mess year around with out it !

    Previous administration gave the green light for year around access roads into Willow . My guess is ConocoPhillips does not want roads as it keeps the competition out . Could be the only reason ? If only evidence was denying OilSearch access to Pikka being the only prime example ?

    There has been some huge oil finds on State lands the last ten years and adjusted for inflation , oil is valued at five times what it was in 1969 when they decided to build TAPS ! Where is the investment dollars in the year 2023 is the larger question?

    Come on oil experts in Juneau , what you say ?

    So much oil in ground on state lands and we are relying on the courts to decide when and if oil is going to be produced on Federal lands ! Smelling a rat here !

  8. In a lawsuit, a ghost group is always bad. Very few exceptions to that rule (to protect the identity of a victim is about the only acceptable exception.)
    Does not matter which side of an environmental action they are on. If they cannot identify themselves and their cause, it is bad.

    • Alaska isn’t getting screwed on NPRA royalties—it’s federal land. That would be like saying I’m getting screwed by my neighbor when they sell their house because I didn’t get a cut of their profit! Alaska is getting screwed by its tax credits to oil companies for constructing projects on federal lands!

    • That’s not the only royalties getting screwed…how is Russia these days there Frank? Where’s the birthright owner at? Should I say that you have something to tell that one??? And royalties I mean trust account to return??? You know, the one account that everyone got to dip into before high tailing it out of Alaska upon discovery…where’s ol Sarah Palin and Hollis French at these days? They have attorneys???

  9. Yes, they are all chicken-……organizations not representing anyone except special interest groups that are not locally backed. Similar to the groups with local-sounding names involved in electioneering fraud.

  10. Are natives actually against the drilling? I don’t think they are, as they will benefit greatly from it. It’s like the non native group that killed the name for the Washington football team. They got the name changed now real natives want the name back.

  11. Gotta be brutally honest: A federal judge like Judge Gleason can do pretty mych whatever she wants without consequence. Once she rules, it will be followed by years of motion practice and appeals. The Left has created a new art form of litigation to stall and kill development of anything. A country that was once noted for getting things done is now an impotent gridlocked mess.

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