Several top Democratic lawmakers, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., heavily criticized President Joe Biden on Monday after his administration approved a massive oil drilling project in Alaska.
The Democrats argued that the decision moving forward with the Willow Project — an oil drilling project forecasted to produce up to 614 million barrels of crude oil over its 30-year lifespan — contradicts Biden’s broader climate agenda. They also indicated 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. “Their decision ignores … the irrefutable science that says we must stop building projects like this to slow the ever more devastating impacts of climate change.”
“This administration clearly knows what the path to a cleaner and more just future looks like — we wish they hadn’t chosen to stray so far from that path with today’s Willow decision,” they continued. “The only acceptable Willow project is no Willow project.”
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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. Ocasio-Cortez and the other Democrats added in their statement that “split decisions in the face of the climate crisis are not good enough.”
Overall, 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. And environmental groups have blasted the project for years as a “carbon bomb.”
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“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.”
“This is a step backwards,” 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.”
Like the Democrats, several leading environmental groups criticized Biden over the decision to approve Willow.
As of Friday, two Change.org petitions urging Biden to “say no” to the Willow Project had received more than 4 million signatures. And the hashtag #StopWillow went viral on social media, garnering more than 650 million impressions across platforms.
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“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.