BREAKING: Biden administration approves Willow project, locking in massive greenhouse gases for decades
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BREAKING: Biden administration approves Willow project, locking in massive greenhouse gases for decades

By Dawnell Smith

UPDATE: We filed a lawsuit charging the Biden administration with breaking multiple laws when approving the Willow project on March 14. Find out more about the lawsuit, our motion requesting a stop to ConocoPhillips’ construction, and the words of those impacted already here.

The Biden administration approved the ConocoPhillips’ Willow project on March 13, 2023, locking in oil and gas drilling and massive greenhouse gas emissions for decades. This decision undermines Biden’s climate promises and puts industry interests before the health of people and the planet.

Alaska Stop Willow ad from March 2023. Photo by Dawnell Smith
An ad in the Anchorage Daily News. March 2023.

“Interior’s decision to give ConocoPhillips permits for this new oil and gas project demonstrates once again how agencies and corporate interests disregard the cost of industrialization to land, water, animals, and people,” said Bridget Psarianos, our senior staff attorney leading prior litigation on Willow. “The Willow project they approved will, without question, reduce access to food and cultural practices for local communities and pump out massive amounts of greenhouse gases that drive continued climate devastation in the Arctic and world.”

Giving the go-ahead to oil and gas projects that expand and lock in drilling on federal lands for decades “is exactly the opposite of responsible and effective climate action,” she continued. “We will continue to fight this project and support a transition off fossil fuels that puts public health, environmental health, and the people directly harmed by industrial projects before profits and political interests.”

Alaskans and Alaska groups denounce Willow approval

Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic released a statement denouncing the approval as destructive to climate and public health in the Arctic. It highlights that fossil fuels “are single-handedly the most damaging contributor to the global climate emergency, especially in the Arctic. The oil and gas industry further pollutes and causes health harms to local people, including to their food access, cultural traditions, and physical and mental health.”

The Biden administration’s approval makes it clear that its call for climate action and the protection of biodiversity is talk, not action. The only reasonable solution to the climate emergency is to deny new fossil fuel projects like Willow. Our fight has been long and also it has only begun. We will continue to call for a stop to Willow because the lives of local people and future generations depend on it.

From SILA’s statement

SILA, Trustees, and other Alaska groups also signed onto a statement from dozens of groups calling the approval of this new oil and gas project on federal lands a huge step backward.

Caribou in the western Arctic. Courtesy Protect The Arctic.

If built, Willow will be the largest new oil extraction project on federal lands in the United States and become a hub for further industrialization. It will pollute the air with toxic emissions and greenhouse gases, and pose serious known harms to public health, the environment and access to food and cultural activities for local communities like Nuiqsut, a village surrounded by oil and gas drilling.

Willow will pollute water and air, disrupt animal migrations, destroy habitat, and result in the release of massive amount of greenhouse gasses. Climate scientists and world leaders agree that governments should not permit new oil and gas projects and President Biden promised to ban “new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters” to curb greenhouse gases.

The approval of Willow is a giant step backwards in addressing the climate crisis. Today, the Biden administration bowed to industry and political power rather than prioritizing land protections, Indigenous communities, and meaningful climate action and leadership.

Press statement signed by dozens of Alaska and national groups

What else you should know about Willow

The community of Nuiqsut, already surrounded by drilling operations, would be directly impacted by the Willow project. Community members and leaders have repeatedly sent letters and met with federal officials to share concerns about inadequate consultation with the community and how the Willow project would reduce food access, cause respiratory and other health problems, and negatively impact current and future residents in multiple ways.

Red-necked phalarope, NPRA. Photo by Bob Wick, BLM

“No dollar can replace what we risk,” said the most recent letter from March 3, 2023.

Recent opposition to this new oil and gas project on federal lands in Alaska has grown, with a March 6 rally in Washington, D.C. and millions and millions of petition actions in opposition to the project after the issue became more and more visible in social media.

The project has threatened the western Arctic for some time. ConocoPhillips executives have talked about it becoming a hub for future industrialization. Willow has also been stopped before. We won in court in 2021 over a prior approval of Willow. The Biden administration then began a supplemental environmental review process that seemed to be designed to paper over legal problems on the way to authorizing the project again.

More and more Alaskans and Americans recognize the danger the Willow project poses to people and the planet. The President cannot keep kicking the climate crisis can down the road.