Following his administration’s Monday morning approval of the Willow oil drilling project, environmental justice advocates slammed U.S. President Joe Biden for betraying the voters who sent him to the White House and vowed to do everything in their power to stop ConocoPhillips from proceeding with its climate-wrecking venture on federal land in Alaska’s North Slope.
“President Biden’s decision to move forward with the Willow project abandons the millions of young people who overwhelmingly came together to demand he stop the project and protect our futures,” Sunrise Movement executive director Varshini Prakash said in a statement. Young voters, overwhelmingly opposed to expanding fossil fuel extraction, played a key role in securing Biden’s 2020 victory and in minimizing the Democratic Party’s losses in the 2022 midterms.
On the campaign trail in 2020, then-candidate Biden “committed to end new oil and gas drilling on public lands and waters,” said Prakash. “Today’s announcement flies in the face of that promise. Instead of sticking to his own goals and listening to the millions of young people who carried the party for the last three cycles, President Biden is letting the fossil fuel industry have their way.”
Dorothy Slater, director of climate research at the Revolving Door Project, also condemned Biden for once again reneging on his unfulfilled pledge to halt drilling on federal lands.
“The Willow project in Alaska is the largest oil extraction project ever proposed on federal lands,” Slater pointed out. “Biden’s green light for this drilling project, which his own Interior Department had ‘substantial concerns‘ about, is political and cowardly. And last-minute half-measures to conserve other areas of Alaska and the Arctic Ocean are insulting in the face of a betrayal of this magnitude.”
“Biden and the fossil fuel-friendly advisers who have his ear are choosing to actively perpetuate massive harm to Alaska ecosystems and our shared atmosphere,” said Slater. “ConocoPhillips, faced with the reality of melting permafrost, plans to artificially cool the ground so it can drill for oil that will further heat the planet. The infrastructure needed for the project will fragment delicate Alaska Arctic ecosystems. People living nearby will be made victims of the inevitable human health hazards associated with leaks and transportation emissions.”
Noting that residents of the Alaska Native village of Nuiqsut “suffered from headaches, breathing problems, and nausea… in the wake of last year’s North Slope gas leak,” Allie Rosenbluth, U.S. program manager at Oil Change International, called the White House’s move “a tremendous strike against President Biden’s legacy on both climate and environmental justice.”
“Biden has again broken his campaign promise to stop oil and gas drilling on federal lands and is approving new drilling at a faster rate than the Trump administration,” said Rosenbluth. “The Willow project would be a colossal source of climate pollution, emitting a whopping 278 million metric tons over the next three decades—equivalent to the annual emissions of one-third of all remaining U.S. coal plants.”
“The United States has no claim to international climate leadership if it’s approving deadly new fossil fuel projects that could operate for decades,” Rosenbluth asserted. “It’s time for the Biden administration to stop investing in disaster and instead invest in a just transition to reliable, affordable, and renewable energy for all.”
As Slater observed, “News media has repeatedly cited support from Alaska Natives… who have expressed that the jobs and revenue from the project are necessary to fund basic services for residents.”
“But there is serious resistance from at least 38 Indigenous-led organizations and the neighboring Native village of Nuiqsut, who say the process for public input has been inadequate and that the project threatens their way of life,” she noted. “A functioning country with a visionary president would realize alternative paths to fund basic services that didn’t rely on a poisonous fossil fuel project with huge anticipated costs to people and planet.”
Sonia Ahkivgak, social outreach coordinator for Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic—which organized a letter of opposition to the Willow project signed by more than three dozen Indigenous-led groups—said in a statement that “the Biden administration’s approval makes it clear that its call for climate action and the protection of biodiversity is talk, not action.”
“The only reasonable solution to the climate emergency is to deny new fossil fuel projects like Willow,” said Ahkivgak. “Our fight has been long and also it has only begun. We will continue to call for a stop to Willow because the lives of local people and future generations depend on it.”
Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic was not alone in declaring that the struggle against the Willow project is far from over.
“President Biden’s approval of the Willow project is a colossal and reprehensible stain on his environmental legacy,” said Friends of the Earth campaigner Raena Garcia. “Forcing a massive climate disaster project onto a region already plagued by climate change is nothing short of tragic for the planet and Alaska’s communities.”
“While the administration sides with Big Oil and exploitation of our public lands, we will keep fighting until this project is stopped dead in its tracks,” Garcia added.
350.org’s North America director, Jeff Ordower, echoed that message.
“President Biden claims to prioritize climate justice, yet today’s decision reveals that he is quick to cater to pressure from Big Oil over the needs of the people,” said Ordower. “Biden absolutely has the power to reject ALL new fossil fuel projects, declare a climate emergency, and truly fight for both our people and our planet. Frontline communities and scientists have been clear that that is the only way forward unless we want to exacerbate climate harm and drive our world further into climate chaos.”
Rubber-stamping more oil extraction in the fragile, rapidly warming Arctic “betrays Biden’s own climate promises,” Ordower continued. “The fight to halt all new fossil fuel projects, including Willow, isn’t over. Our movement is only growing—and we’ll continue to fight for people and planet over profit.”
Christy Goldfuss, chief policy impact officer at the Natural Resources Defense Council, described the Biden administration’s decision as “a grievous mistake,” stressing that “it greenlights a carbon bomb, sets back the climate fight, and emboldens an industry hell-bent on destroying the planet.”
“Willow is a project out of time,” Goldfuss continued. “With science demanding an end to fossil fuels, this locks in decades more dependence on oil. With the climate crisis worsening by the day, this has the same yearly carbon footprint of roughly 1.1 million homes—more than are in Chicago. With clean energy investment driving a heartland manufacturing renaissance, this stakes our future on the fuels of the past.”
“We will consider every appropriate tool in our continuing fight to stop the Willow climate bomb,” she added.
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