Deb Haaland, secretary of the interior, defended the controversial Willow oil project’s clearance on Friday, saying that despite President Joe Biden’s pledge to halt new drilling on federal lands, “We’re not going to turn the faucet off and say we’re not drilling anymore.”
Speaking at the Society of Environmental Journalists annual conference, Haaland asserted that the Biden administration “follows the science and the law when it comes to everything we do, and that includes gas and oil leases.” Her agency, which is in charge of managing U.S. public lands and waters, is considering such licenses.
“We’re not going to say we’re not going to use gas and oil,” Biden insisted despite the commitment. That isn’t the case, Haaland stated. The best that we can do is what we are doing. Haaland’s remarks followed harsh condemnation from some of the administration’s most ardent supporters, particularly young climate activists after the Interior approved the $8 billion Willow project on March 13.
On Alaska’s oil-rich North Slope, the huge drilling project by ConocoPhillips might yield up to 180,000 barrels of oil each day. Leaders of significant environmental organizations and Indigenous groups have urged Haaland, the first Native American in the Cabinet, to use her power to halt the drilling project, which they said runs counter to Biden’s pledge to decrease greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2030.
Environmental organizations refer to Willow as a “carbon bomb” and have launched the #StopWillow social media campaign, which has received hundreds of millions of views. Haaland, who disagreed with Willow when she was in Congress, made light of the situation on Friday, saying, “Often I don’t have personal feelings.
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Haaland’s opinions still appeared to be clear. She denied numerous opportunities to state that she supported the choice and did not sign the secretarial order sanctioning the project, instead giving that responsibility to her deputy, Tommy Beaudreau.
In answer to inquiries from the hundreds of assembled journalists, Haaland stated that the approval of several clean-energy projects, including a recent scheme to produce “solar power from the deserts of Arizona to communities all over the West,” contrasted the Willow decision. “Everyone is experiencing a climate crisis, so we are taking that part very seriously,” she said.
Ten hours after the decision on March 13 became known, Haaland stated that she and Biden, both Democrats, thought the climate disaster was “the most urgent issue of our lifetime.” On Friday, Haaland referred to Willow as “a very long, complicated, and difficult decision to make” and mentioned that ConocoPhillips has had oil drilling rights at the location in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska for a long time.
“You know, in this country, current legal rights do exist. We must, then, pay tribute to them in various ways. We tried to make it smaller, protect the stakeholders, and do everything we could to make the situation more palatable for Alaska’s species and ecosystems.
ConocoPhillips, based in Houston, has agreed to give up approximately 70,000 acres (28,000 hectares) of leased property that will no longer be developed as part of the final approval, which indicates a significantly smaller project than the one that was initially proposed.
Although Biden stated last month that he had “a strong inclination to disapprove” of Willow, he had received legal counsel suggesting that the oil firm could prevail in court. Instead, his team compelled compromises, which included protecting millions of acres in Alaska and the Arctic Ocean.
Consequently, he reasoned, “I thought the better gamble — and a hell of a tradeoff — would be to have the Arctic Ocean, the Bering Sea, and so many other places off limits (from oil drilling) forever now,” he remarked on March 24 while visiting Canada. The preservation of substantial portions of Alaskan land and sea for all time is what I want to do. When asked if she wished Biden had addressed Willow more, Haaland responded, “Of course that is a matter for President Biden.
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Activists expressed their dissatisfaction with Haaland’s statement on Friday. The younger demographic is crucial to the Biden administration. That is a simple fact. Cassidy DiPaola, a representative for the anti-oil and anti-fossil fuel Fossil Free Media, stated, “And if they continue to approve disastrous fossil fuel projects and pointless lease sales, then they risk losing a critical constituency in 2024.
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