The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.
– William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene 2
Alaska denied former Governor Sean “Captain Zero” Parnell another term. And good riddance. But his pernicious policies and idiot ideas linger. His evil deeds live on. One of Captain Zero’s many failed strategies was to litigate the federal government into submission.
Well, he’s lost another one.
Captain Zero tried to force the Department of Interior to allow oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. When the Alaska National Interests Lands Act (“ANILCA”) was adopted back in 1980. Senator “Uncle Ted” Stevens slid the infamous Section 1002 into ANILCA that directed the Department of the Interior perform exploratory work by the end of 1987. Interior did that. The State wanted more. Decades later, Captain Zero submitted an exploration plan on behalf of the State, aided by his Commissioner of Natural Resources, the same man who is now Alaska’s Senator Dan “the Carpetbagger” Sullivan. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell rejected the State’s lame effort, finding the time for exploration expired back in 1987. The State sued the Interior Department.
U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason wasn’t having any, ruling:
Congress authorized the Secretary to approve limited-duration exploratory activity on the coastal plain and ordered a report generated from these activities by 1987. Whether the statute authorizes or requires the Secretary to approve additional exploration after the submission of the 1987 report is ambiguous.
The Secretary’s interpretation that her statutory authority and obligation to review and approve exploration plans ceased after 1987 report has been completed is based on a permissible and reasonable construction of the statute.
Judge Gleason found Section 1002 of ANILCA was unambiguous as to the Secretary’s authority up until the deadline for the 1987 report but was silent, and therefore ambiguous, on any deadline after that. And where a statute is ambiguous, the administering agency’s interpretation is given deference, where that interpretation is not unreasonable.
Judge Gleason found there was nothing unreasonable about Secretary Jewell’s interpretation.
None of this is a surprise; it’s pretty elementary law, actually. While the State, under Governor Walker, is “studying the decision to determine whether to appeal,” the money could be better spent on, say, road repair, or social services, or even party planning. As opposed to paying a bunch of lawyers to lose – again – in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Normally, WC thinks paying lawyers to litigate is a terrific idea. But you litigate where there is a material chance of winning. And Captain Zero’s idea – or maybe its Commissioner Sullivan’s idea – was hopeless from the start.
But that wasn’t the only recent bad legal outcome from Captain Zero’s failed litigation strategy. Judge Gleason has also ruled that the State of Alaska gets to pay Secretary Jewell’s legal fees. And the fees of the Gwitch’in Steering Committee, the environmental groups and everyone else who opposed the Captain’s lame lawsuit. The last time that WC checked, the State of Alaska still faced massive budget deficits, and that it was kind of a bad idea to waste money.
But we’re talking about Captain Zero here. Of course it was a bad idea.