ANCHORAGE - The U.S. Senate has adopted two riders included in a major spending bill that would bar court challenges to the new trans-Alaska Pipeline right-of-way agreement and a Forest Service decision on wilderness in the Tongass National Forest.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski's amendment would insulate the new trans-Alaska Pipeline right-of-way agreement from lawsuits and judicial review.
The measure, passed Thursday, would extend a key provision in the 1973 law that authorized the pipeline. Effectively, Congress would be saying that the environmental studies conducted during the pipeline reauthorization process are sufficient and shall not be subject to court review.
Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, said it is aimed at heading off protracted and, in her view, unnecessary litigation by environmental groups and other pipeline critics.
But critics such as Deborah Williams, executive director of the Alaska Conservation Foundation, said that if the pipeline's environmental impact study is solid it can withstand a court challenge.
The bill also includes a rider, introduced by Sen. Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, that would effectively bar environmental groups from using administrative appeals or the courts to press for more wilderness designations in roadless areas of the Tongass National Forest.
At issue is whether more of the 16.8 million-acre national forest in Southeast should be put off-limits to development. In April 2001, in response to an environmentalists' lawsuit, a judge ordered the Forest Service to review 9.7 million roadless acres and decide whether Congress should consider creating new wilderness areas. Last May, the agency issued a draft decision, saying no to new Tongass wilderness. The agency said it would issue its final decision early this year.