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Biden Approves Huge Alaska Oil Project, Angering Climate Activists

The Biden administration on Monday approved one of the largest oil-drilling projects in the country’s history, an $8 billion development in Arctic Alaska’s north that is fiercely opposed by environmentalists.

The decision It marked a victory for a bipartisan group of Alaska lawmakers who had championed the project, called the Willow Plan, and a stunning twist for a president who promised “no more drilling on federal land, period” on the campaign trail.

Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, both Republicans, and Rep. Mary Peltola, a Democrat, joined the celebration Monday.

“The people of Alaska were heard today,” Peltola said in a statement. “Now, it’s up to us here in Alaska to make sure we make the most of this opportunity.”

The project could employ 2,500 workers during construction and create 300 jobs in the long term, according to ConocoPhillipsthe Houston-based oil giant leading the development.

But the company would also pump about 8 million metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere a year, equivalent to emissions of about 1.7 million cars.

President Biden speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, March 13, 2023.

Biden, who has angered clean energy activists by extending oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico, faces tough decisions as Russia’s war in Ukraine clogs global energy supply chains and looms the 2024 general elections.

In 2020, he said he was “deeply against” drilling for oil in the Arctic, describing it as a “disaster”.

His administration combined its approval of three drill sites on a frigid 499-acre site on Alaska’s North Slope with a warning declaring that nearly 3 million acres in the state’s National Petroleum Reserve will be off limits for oil and gas drilling.

According to the Department of the Interior, up to 16 million acres in Alaska could ultimately be covered by the newly proposed protections.

Ryan Lance, CEO of ConocoPhillips, said in a statement that the Willow project fits within the “environmental and social justice priorities” of the White House.

Supporters say a major oil project President Joe Biden is approving on Alaska's oil-rich North Slope represents an economic lifeline for indigenous communities, while environmentalists say it runs counter to their climate goals.

But Earthjustice, a San Francisco-based legal group, said Biden’s decision on the Willow Plan could have profoundly damaging environmental effects.

“We know that President Biden understands the existential threat of the climate,” said Abigail Dillen, the group’s president, in a statement“But you are approving a bill that derails your own climate goals.”

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