How Biden Got From ‘No More Drilling’ to Backing the Willow Project in Alaska

How Biden Got From ‘No More Drilling’ to Backing the Willow Project in Alaska

“I think the White House believes that the president now has strong climate credentials, but that he needs to reach out to working-class voters in swing states who care about gas prices,” said Paul Bledsoe, a former climate adviser in the Clinton administration is now working at the Progressive Policy Institute, a think tank.

But Mr Bledsoe said he also thinks the government needs to argue more publicly that the Willow project will not make a major contribution to the climate crisis.

“The problem with climate isn’t supply, it’s demand,” he said. “The world is awash in oil and other countries will supply the oil if we don’t. The question is, can we reduce demand through substitute technologies? And the administration was very strong there.”

Burning oil from the Willow project would cause 280 million tons of CO2 emissions, according to a federal analysis. On an annual basis, this would result in 9.2 million tons of CO2 pollution, equivalent to an annual increase of almost two million cars on the roads. The United States, the second largest polluter on earth after China, emits about 5.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually.

A key factor was the broad support Willow enjoyed from lawmakers from both parties, including Mary Peltola, a Democrat and the state’s first Alaskan Native elected to Congress; unions; and most Native American groups in Alaska.

In 2021, the Biden administration defended a Trump-era decision to move forward with the Willow project. Last year it released a new draft environmental statement signaling support for Willow, and in February a federal analysis cabled that the administration would be looking at ways to approve a limited version of the project.

When lawyers met with Deb Haaland, the home secretary, in late February to persuade her to block the permits in a last-ditch effort, she choked twice and explained that her agency often had to make difficult decisions, according to several people who there were present. Ms Haaland had fought the Willow project while she was a member of Congress before entering the administration.

Lisa Friedman