A supposed grassroots movement on social media that opposes a major oil drilling project in Alaska is largely being driven and funded by an environmental group bankrolled by a left-wing billionaire.
Over the last several weeks, the #StopWillow hashtag has gone viral on social media platforms, including TikTok and Twitter, with users urging President Joe Biden and the Interior Department to reject the Willow Project, an oil drilling proposal in northern Alaska that its developer, ConocoPhillips, has estimated would produce up to 180,000 barrels of oil per day and create thousands of jobs.
The viral trend, which has garnered at least 650 million views across platforms, appears to have originated from the group Stop Willow, which boosts the hashtag on its website and provides advocates with information and resources about the Willow Project. Stop Willow’s information — such as its claim that the project would “add more than 280 million metric tons of climate pollution to the atmosphere” — is often cited in social media posts.
“Willow would emit more climate pollution annually than more than 99.7% of all single point sources in the country,” the group states on its website. “Willow is a climate disaster we just can’t afford.”
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In one example of the group’s influence, Earthjustice, a climate-focused law firm that has spearheaded litigation to block the Willow Project, published a video Thursday linking to Stop Willow’s website and calling on Biden to “say no to Willow.”
The Biden administration is expected to decide the fate of the contentious project in coming days.
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Stop Willow, however, isn’t an independent organization but a project of the Colorado-based Conservation Lands Foundation (CLF). The CLF, which aims to conserve American lands through “community-based” advocacy, regularly receives millions of dollars in contributions from donors whose identities are unknown.
In 2021 alone, the CLF received $7.5 million in contributions and spent $4.6 million on grants and salaries, leaving about $3 million for other expenses and internal initiatives, according to the organization’s most recent tax filing reviewed by Fox News Digital.
While its donors are largely hidden from public view, Hansjorg Wyss, a Swiss billionaire who has injected hundreds of millions of dollars into liberal organizations and causes over the last decade, was a founding board member of the group. Between 2011 and 2015, Wyss’ personal philanthropic venture — the Wyss Foundation — wired more than $6 million to the CLF. Wyss was also previously the chairman and a director of the CLF.
CLF has also received funding from dark money groups like New Venture Fund, the Litterman Family Foundation and the Hewlett Foundation that, similar to the Wyss Foundation, mainly back liberal causes, additional tax filings showed.
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In addition, Stop Willow’s website includes a link for users to “take action to #StopWillow.” The link redirects to the website belonging to a group named Protect The Arctic, which doesn’t appear to have any tax filings, doesn’t list affiliate organizations and doesn’t name its leaders.
Protect the Arctic provides activists with resources, information and a media toolkit to help boost opposition to the Willow Project on social media. The group also created a letter template for activists to easily fill out and send to the White House, informing the federal government of their opposition, and a script for activists to read when leaving a voicemail for the White House switchboard.
“SHARE the #StopWillow campaign on your social media channels,” the website states. “Find our #StopWillow Toolkit with talking points, facts, and a photo+video asset library HERE. Or, copy the sample post below and click the images to save them.”
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The group then includes a sample social media post for users to copy that states, “President Biden is one step away from approving a huge oil and gas project in #AmericasArctic. Visit ProtectTheArctic.org/stop-willow to quickly submit your comment to the White House asking Biden to #StopWillow.”
The Daily Caller News Foundation first reported the ties between CLF, Stop Willow and Protect the Arctic.
Meanwhile, the Willow Project has received support from the entire bipartisan Alaska delegation — Republican Sens. Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski and Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola — Alaska’s legislature and Gov. Mike Dunleavy, Alaska Native communities, labor unions, leaders of the North Slope Borough and the Alaska Federation of Natives.
Proponents have argued that it would shore up energy security in the state and across the country, provide billions of dollars in economic output and would have a minimal carbon footprint compared to alternatives imported from foreign nations.
ConocoPhillips said last month that the 30-year project — which was originally approved under the Trump administration before a federal judge ordered the government to conduct a more rigorous environmental analysis — would “benefit local communities and enhance American energy security.”
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“Almost every single Alaskan, especially the Native people, are unified on this project and how much it means for our country,” Sullivan told Fox News Digital in an interview last week. “If they go with Greenpeace and Center for Biological Diversity and lower 48 radicals and tell the Native people of my state, ‘Sorry, we’re going to listen to lower 48 radicals, not you,’ all of their talk of racial justice and racial equity is, quite frankly, bulls—.”
“These environmental groups aren’t doing anything based on science,” he added. “The vast majority of their petition-gathering is how they can raise more money off poor grandmothers in Connecticut. It’s shameful.”
The CLF didn’t respond to a request for comment.