Biden approves Arctic willow oil project, complicating climate legacy

The same president who traversed the nation The biggest law of all To reduce climate pollution may have removed part of this legacy.

The Biden administration gave the go-ahead Monday for one of the largest oil projects ever on public lands. The approval paves the way for one of the world’s largest oil companies, ConocoPhillips, to begin construction on the Willow Project in northern Alaska within days. According to the Bureau of Land Management appreciationThe project could produce up to 614 million barrels of oil over the next 30 years. Construction will likely begin immediately, though it will take years For the oil to start flowing.

The approval marks the president’s biggest turnaround on his 2020 campaign pledge Will be Prohibition of new oil and gas permits in public lands and waters.

The administration has tried to soften the blow to climate activists with other moves. Over the weekend, a program The Biden administration declared it would protect 16 million acres of marine and terrestrial craters, with new regulations in place for environmentally sensitive areas and animals like caribou.

Bureau of Land Management, which produced 120 record pages From the decision to approve the ConocoPhillips project, it also shrank slightly in the proposal initial range. In the end, only three of the five large divisions in ConocoPhillips’ plans could be developed. ConocoPhillips also waived 68,000 acres From existing leases to the federal government.

But anti-Willow Native advocates do not see these concessions as sufficient. “The real cost of Project Willow is the land, the animals and the people who are forced to breathe polluted air and drink polluted water,” said one. statement From Sovereign Inupiat for the Living Arctic Life, A popular indigenous group. “While out-of-state executives are making record profits, locals are left to contend with the adverse effects of being caught up in massive drilling operations.”

Activists fear the climate impacts could be significant because of the new sleeve Willow oil It will come to market when the world can no longer afford it in its carbon budget.

The decision embodies the contradictions and limitations of the Biden administration when it comes to combating climate change.

From the administration’s perspective, Biden has a strong record of protecting public lands and has limited the impact of this one in particular project by reducing its scope. Legally, he also faces some restrictions. Biden can’t easily stop oil companies from drilling on land they’ve already rented, even Management is committed to balancing environmental costs and climate impacts. Biden could choose to push the legal battle but he clearly decided against it, handing it over Oil companies major gain.

The Biden administration is trying to get it both ways on climate change

Climate activists and allies have harsh words for the Biden administration’s approval of the project.

“It’s an abdication of climate leadership that this is actually up for debate,” said Colin Reese, an activist with Oil Change International. “The fact that it would strengthen the control of the fossil fuel industry and put communities at risk is unacceptable.”

Rep. Jared Hoffman (D-Calif.) called it “more than a disappointment” and “a vicious punch to many of us who have stood by this administration.”

They are angry for a simple reason: the world already has too much oil and cannot afford more if it has any hope of tackling runaway global warming. ‘No new oil and natural gas fields needed’ if we’re going to reach net zero emissions by 2050, says the 2021 report by International Energy Agency Not exactly a radical climate group.

The Willow Project takes us in the opposite direction. Over its expected lifetime, it will add 278 million metric tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, which is the equivalent of setting up 70 new coal plants for a year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gases. calculator. Size alone makes the Willow Project a “carbon bomb” From the point of view of environmentalists.

It’s not just the scale of development that matters to climate activists, but the timeline. ConocoPhillips expects drilling to take place through at least 2050, the same year the world should be Net zero emissions In order to prevent uncontrollable warming.

Compare all that to the legacy of the IRA, which is Biden’s biggest victory yet on climate change. The law reduces climate pollution by investing billions in clean energy, energy efficiency and electricity. By 2030, the IRA will be further reduced 660 million metric tons of carbon dioxide more than expected cuts without law, according to estimates more rosy than ever rhodium group. it’s not An apples-to-apples comparison, but it’s up to The stark contrast between Willow Project’s emissions bomb IRA goals.

In the 2020 presidential primary, Biden indicated A different approach to drilling. promise to Taking new digs and leases off the table on public lands; When Biden enacted a temporary moratorium on the new hire as president, a federal court ban it. Since then, “we’ve seen a decline in ambition,” Reese said. “He promised a lot of things that have not yet been fulfilled.”

There is another way to read the situation – that his hands were simply tied. An administration official said E&E News Sunday night, the president faced “legal constraints on stopping or significantly reducing Willow, given that ConocoPhillips has held some leases for decades.” The oil industry would almost certainly have challenged Biden on these grounds in court if BLM had refused the permit. Now the administration may face environmentalists in court instead, who are likely to challenge the administration’s move.

We’ve seen Biden try to do that Play a similar compromise in climate politics before. He’s got his own climate law, and he’s convinced Senator Joe Manchine (D-WV) in support of the Low Inflation Act. But management too They weighed him down He succeeded Manchin’s reform bill that would have cleared the way Gas pipeline project in Manchine State West Virginia (Ultimate Bill Failed to get enough votes in the Senate last year).

The ironic way to read Biden’s decision is that he’s trying to find a middle way between the activist left and the fossil fuel establishment (and he’s not even successfully doing so. The left is furious, and the API is in no hurry to congratulate Biden either. Criticize “Mixed signals” from the administration). The more sympathetic view is that even with a setback like Willow’s, the totality of Biden’s actions — including the IRA and new Arctic naval protection measures — outweighs the approval of a single bill.

Either way, it’s disappointing thinking in the short term, Rep. Hoffman argues. A true climate chief, he said, would reject “new fossil fuel developments like Willow, not some of the time but every time.”

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