Democrats criticize Biden's approval of massive Alaska oil drilling project as contradictory to climate agenda

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President Joe Biden's decision to approve the Willow Project, a massive oil drilling project forecasted to produce up to 614 million barrels of crude oil over its 30-year lifespan, has drawn heavy criticism from top Democratic lawmakers, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.

The Democrats argued that the decision moving forward with the project contradicts Biden's broader climate agenda and that the only acceptable outcome would have been for the president to completely reject the project.

"The Biden administration has committed to fighting climate change and advancing environmental justice—today’s decision to approve the Willow project fails to live up to those promises," Ocasio-Cortez said in a joint statement with Reps. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., Jared Huffman, D-Calif., and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass.

The federal analysis of the environmental impact of Willow estimated that it would produce as much as 278 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions, the equivalent of the carbon footprint of 2 million cars. Environmental groups have blasted the project for years as a "carbon bomb."

"It’s disappointing to see Secretary [Deb] Haaland and President [Joe] Biden approve the 'Willow Project' for ConocoPhillips," Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., tweeted Monday. "The Western Arctic is one of the last great wild landscapes on the planet, and as public land, it belongs to every American. Industrial development in this unspoiled landscape will not age well."

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., added in a separate tweet. "The best way to lower energy prices is to shift to renewables — cheaper in the long run and not subject to Big Oil’s price gouging whims."

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., noted Monday that, during the presidential campaign and shortly after taking office, Biden pledged to end all new drilling on federal lands. Willow represents the largest drilling project on federal lands currently proposed.

"This disastrous decision to approve the Willow Project in Alaska, one of the largest oil development projects in decades, will have devastating consequences on our planet, frontline communities, and wildlife," Tlaib said.

And Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., blasted the decision, saying it was "wrong on every level."

"It destroys our climate goals and undermines international climate ambition," the Oregon lawmaker tweeted. "We can’t ask other nations to curb dirty energy production if we’re greenlighting fossil projects."

As of Friday, two Change.org petitions urging Biden to "say no" to the Willow Project had received more than 4 million signatures. The hashtag #StopWillow went viral on social media, garnering more than 650 million impressions across platforms.

"If Biden wants to protect the Arctic, he needs to protect all of it," Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. "The president has left us in the cold and missed a major opportunity to live up to his climate commitments. This project is on weak legal ground, and we’re gearing up for action."

"This is a crushing step backward at a time when we need this administration to make every leasing and permitting decision through the lens of a comprehensive plan to make public lands part of the climate solution," Karlin Itchoak, the Alaska senior regional director for The Wilderness Society, added.

On Sunday evening, ahead of the expected decision on Willow, the administration announced it would block off roughly 16 million acres of land and water in Alaska near where the project will be located from being developed for future oil and gas leasing. However, the Democrats argued that "split decisions in the face of the climate crisis are not good enough move towards a sustainable future.

Environmental groups also condemned the approval of the Willow Project. According to Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, "The president has left us in the cold and missed a major opportunity to live up to his climate commitments. This project is on weak legal ground, and we're gearing up for action."

The approval of the project was particularly frustrating for some Democrats as it appears to be a reversal of Biden's commitment to fighting climate change. During his presidential campaign and shortly after taking office, Biden pledged to end all new drilling on federal lands, making the Willow Project's approval seem like a betrayal of that promise.

Democratic lawmakers such as Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich. and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., expressed their disappointment in the decision. Tlaib called the approval of the project "disastrous," while Merkley called it "wrong on every level."

The Willow Project has been a contentious issue for years, with environmental groups labeling it a "carbon bomb." The federal analysis of the project's environmental impact estimates that it would produce up to 278 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to the carbon footprint of 2 million cars.

Despite the criticism and opposition, the approval of the Willow Project is seen by some as a necessary step in the country's energy independence. The project is expected to produce up to 614 million barrels of crude oil over its 30-year lifespan, generating revenue and creating jobs.

ConocoPhillips, the oil company behind the project, also defended the decision, stating that the company has taken measures to minimize the project's environmental impact. According to the company, the Willow Project will use electric drilling rigs powered by renewable energy and will implement measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The approval of the Willow Project highlights the challenge of balancing economic growth and environmental sustainability. As the United States continues to rely on fossil fuels for energy, the country faces mounting pressure to reduce its carbon footprint and transition to renewable energy sources. The Biden administration's decision to approve the project has drawn criticism from environmentalists, who argue that it goes against the president's commitment to fighting climate change.

In response to the approval of the project, some environmental groups have called for increased action to protect the Arctic and reduce the country's reliance on fossil fuels. The approval of the Willow Project serves as a reminder of the urgent need for the country to transition to renewable energy sources and take stronger action to combat climate change.

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