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Environmental Groups Sue Biden Administration Over Controversial Willow Project in Alaska

CRISIS - Atmospheric CO2 Levels by Martina Igini Americas Mar 15th 20233 mins
Environmental Groups Sue Biden Administration Over Controversial Willow Project in Alaska

Green and indigenous groups filed a lawsuit against Biden’s approval of the controversial $8 billion Willow project in Alaska on Monday, arguing the administration failed to consider cleaner alternatives.

Trustees for Alaska filed a lawsuit on behalf of six environmental and indigenous groups on Tuesday against Biden’s approval of CoconoPhillip’s controversial Willow oil project in Alaska, arguing the administration violated several laws and ignored the oil operations’ impacts on climate change and the environment.

The Interior Department’s authorisation enables CoconoPhillip, Alaska’s largest crude oil producer and the largest owner of exploration leases, to drill from three locations across its Willow site in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve – down from the five well pads the company originally sought.

Alaska’s bipartisan congressional delegation and a coalition of Alaska Native tribes and groups, who see the CoconoPhillip’s project as a “much-needed source of new jobs” and “billions of dollars in new revenue”, welcomed Biden’s decision, saying it will “[improve] quality of life on the North Slope and across [the] state.”

Climate activists, on the other hand, expressed deep concern over the decision, calling it a “carbon bomb” that goes against Biden’s campaign pledges to curb drillings on federal lands and poses health and environmental risks. The Willow Project will unlock an estimated 600 million barrels of oil and about 240 million tons of planet-warming CO2 emissions tied to burning it over three decades – the equivalent of adding 2 million gas-powered cars on the road each year.

The legal challenge filed on behalf of the Alaska Wilderness League, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, and four other green groups, accuses the administration of violating several laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act and the 1973 Endangered Species Act, a framework for the conservation and recovery of at-risk plants and animals in the US that requires federal agencies to ensure that their actions are not likely to jeopardise the existence of any species listed.

“Once again, we find ourselves going to court to protect our lives, our communities and our future,” Siqiniq Maupin, executive director of Sovereign Inupiat for a Living Arctic – one of the organisations behind the lawsuit – said in a news release. “We will continue to fight this project.”

The Interior Department declined to comment, while ConocoPhillips expressed confidence in the government review.

Environmental law group Earthjustice is planning to file a second lawsuit against the project on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, and other organisations, arguing that the Biden administration has failed to take steps to reduce planet-warming carbon pollution.

“We are too late in the climate crisis to approve massive oil and gas projects that directly undermine the new clean economy that the Biden Administration committed to advancing,” Earthjustice’s President Abigail Dillen said on Monday. “We know President Biden understands the existential threat of climate, but he is approving a project that derails his own climate goals.”

The project’s approval came just days after Biden announced new steps to end fossil fuel subsidies and ban oil and gas drilling in its 2024 financial budget. The move could save an estimated $13 billion over 10 years by eliminating special tax treatments for oil and gas company investments, though experts say the plan has little chance of making it through the divided Congress. President Biden has been proposing cutting subsidies in each of his budgets since he took office but they have never made it through Congress.

The administration has also repeatedly criticised Big Oil for making record profits at a time when consumers are battling with rising costs associated with the global energy crisis sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Featured image by Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement BSEE/Flickr

You might also like: Biden Budget 2024: Fossil Fuel Subsidies Phaseout and More Investments in Clean Energy and Climate Resilience

About the Author

Martina Igini

Martina is the Managing Editor at Earth.Org. She holds two BA degrees, in Translation/Interpreting Studies and Journalism, and a MA in International Development from the University of Vienna. After working at the United Nations Global Communication Department in Vienna, she joined a newspaper in Italy as a reporter before moving to Hong Kong in 2020. Her interests include sustainability and the role of public policy in environmental protection with a focus on developing countries.

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