Environmental Groups Sue Biden Admin Over ConocoPhillips' Willow Oil Project in Alaska

'Willow fits within the Biden Administration’s priorities on environmental and social justice, facilitating the energy transition and enhancing our energy security,' said the CEO of ConocoPhillips

The Biden administration has been sued by six environmental groups over its support of an oil project in Alaska.

The plaintiffs argue the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Department of the Interior are aware of the hazards the ConocoPhillips’ Willow oil project poses to wildlife and the climate and that supporting the project violates President Joe Biden’s promises regarding environmental policy. 

“Willow would be located within the northeastern portion of the National Petroleum Reserve–Alaska (Reserve), in an area already under stress from rapid industrialization and climate change,” states the lawsuit. “Willow would result in the construction and operation of extensive oil and gas and other infrastructure in sensitive arctic habitats and will significantly impact the region’s wildlife, air, water, lands, and people.”

The plaintiffs include the Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Alaska Wilderness League, Environment America, Inc., Sierra Club, and The Wilderness Society. The group is seeking an injunction from the court. 

The lawsuit says the BLM did not consider alternatives that could lessen the project’s environmental impact — an alleged oversight that the plaintiffs’ claim violated the National Environmental Policy Act.

“Interior attempted to put a shiny gloss over a structurally unsound decision that will, without question, result in a massive fossil fuel project that will reduce access to food and cultural practices for local communities,” said Bridget Psarianos, staff attorney for Trustees for Alaska which is representing the nonprofits and interest groups, in a statement

“This new decision allows ConocoPhillips to pump out massive amounts of greenhouse gases that drive continued climate devastation in the Arctic and world,” she said. “The laws broken on the way to these permits demonstrate the government’s disregard for those who would be most directly harmed by industrial pollution and ignores Alaska’s and the world’s climate reality.”

The Biden administration approved the project on March 13, granting permission to  ConocoPhillips to drill in the National Petroleum Reserve, which is located on Alaska’s North Slope. 

The energy company has estimated the project could produce approximately 180,000 barrels of oil per day. The project’s advocates say the new oil could increase national security and decrease oil prices, per NPR

“This was the right decision for Alaska and our nation,” said Ryan Lance, the chairman and chief executive officer of ConocoPhillips, in a March 13 statement. “Willow fits within the Biden Administration’s priorities on environmental and social justice, facilitating the energy transition and enhancing our energy security, all while creating good union jobs and providing benefits to Alaska Native communities.”

The project was originally approved by President Donald Trump’s administration in August of 2020 with support from Alaska Senator Lis Murkowski. 

Biden, who was campaigning for the presidency, said he would look to prevent the project from moving forward if elected. He suspended oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in June of 2021.

The White House issued a statement defending Biden’s commitment to the environment on March 11, per Politico. An administration official said the president has made America “a magnet for clean energy manufacturing and jobs.”

“This approach has not changed — nor will it. Our climate goals are cutting emissions in half by 2030 and reaching net-zero by 2050 — not 2023,” the official said. “That has always meant that oil will continue to be a part of the energy mix in the short-term while we shore up domestic clean energy production for the long-term.”

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