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The Biden administration is defending a proposed Trump-era oil and gas project in Alaska, prompting sharp criticism from conservation groups that have pushed to stop the development.
A coalition of environmental and Indigenous groups filed a lawsuit challenging the project, known as Willow, late last year following the Trump administration’s approval in October, arguing federal agencies failed to properly assess the project's environmental impacts.
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The group argues the ConocoPhillips development that could produce more than 100,000 barrels of oil each day will threaten wildlife and the Nuiqsut community in Alaska’s North Slope, as well as lead to the production of more climate-warming greenhouse gases.
While President Biden has paused all new drilling leases on public land as his administration is aiming to take bold action to transition away from fossil fuels, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a brief on Wednesday arguing that the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service adequately followed environmental laws before approving the project and said it should be allowed to move forward.
Environmental groups slammed the decision, saying it is contradictory to Biden’s pledge to rein in climate change and drilling.
“It’s incredibly disappointing to see the Biden administration defending this environmentally disastrous project,” Kristen Monsell, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement Thursday.
“We hope it’s not the administration’s final word on Willow. President Biden promised climate action, and our climate can’t afford more huge new oil-drilling projects,” Monsell said.
The Center for Biological Diversity says burning the estimated 590 million barrels of oil extracted from the oil wells over the project’s 30 year lifespan would result in nearly 280 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions.
Supporters of the project argue it will produce billions of dollars for the state and local governments over three decades and boost Alaska’s economy with 2,000 construction jobs. The development will be located within the National Petroleum Reserve of Alaska.
Biden on his first day in office stopped oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which is located more than 100 miles east of the proposed Willow project.
The brief by the DOJ was praised by Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R) and Dan Sullivan (R).
“Through their careful review, the administration reached the same conclusion that we have always known, which is that the Willow project went through a rigorous, comprehensive permitting process and can move forward because it is being held to the highest environmental and labor standards in the world,” Murkowski said in a statement.
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