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High-ranking Dem turns on Biden after admin gives major oil project green light

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The top Democratic member of the House Natural Resources Committee sharply criticized the Biden administration Wednesday for pushing ahead with a massive drilling project in Alaska.

Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., said the plan issued by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) ran in opposition to President Biden’s own climate agenda and goals. According to Grijalva, the so-called Willow Project, which was proposed by oil company ConocoPhillips, would include 250 wells, multiple pipelines, a central processing plant, an airport and a gravel mine near ecologically fragile habitats in northern Alaska.

“Giving ConocoPhillips the green light on the Willow project is not just a disaster in its own right — it paves the way for even more oil and gas drilling in the area in the future,” Grijalva said in a statement. 

“Today’s decision sends the dangerous message that the fight against climate change, Alaska Natives’ and local residents’ lives, and wildlife are not good enough reasons to keep Big Oil from getting their way,” he continued. “This is the exact opposite of what the Biden administration stands for and the opposite of what Alaskans and this country need.”

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House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., makes a closing statement at a House hearing in 2020. 
(Bonnie Cash/Pool/Getty Images)

Earlier in the day, the BLM published the final supplemental environmental impact statement for the Willow Project, approving three of the five drilling sites proposed by ConocoPhillips across the National Petroleum Reserve in North Slope Borough, Alaska. The agency denied one site and deferring decision of another. However, the announcement noted that a final record of decision could lead to additional deferrals.

The announcement comes about five years after the Willow Project’s permitting process began in 2018. The Trump administration ultimately approved the project, but a federal judge in Alaska overturned the decision, saying it hadn’t properly assessed the environmental harms, including greenhouse gas emissions, that would result from the project.

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ConocoPhillips has stated that the project — which has received widespread support from Republicans and energy groups — would deliver 80,000 barrels of oil per day at its peak and deliver between $8-17 billion in new revenue for the federal government, the state of Alaska and local North Slope Borough communities. It would also create 2,500 construction jobs and 300 long-term jobs for the region. 

The company has also noted that, due to its location in the National Petroleum Reserve, 50% of its revenue would be transferred to a grant program benefiting native Alaskan communities.

A lone oil barrel is pictured near the Kokalik river which winds through the National Petroleum Reserve in northern Alaska. 

A lone oil barrel is pictured near the Kokalik river which winds through the National Petroleum Reserve in northern Alaska. 
(Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

“We believe Willow will benefit local communities and enhance American energy security while producing oil in an environmentally and socially responsible manner,” Erec Isaacson, the president of ConocoPhillips Alaska, said in a statement. “After nearly five years of rigorous regulatory review and environmental analysis, the National Environmental Policy Act process is almost complete and should be concluded without delay.” 

“ConocoPhillips looks forward to a final record of decision (ROD) and is ready to begin construction immediately after receiving a viable ROD and full authorization from all permitting agencies,” he added.

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In addition to labor unions and local leaders, the entire Alaskan congressional delegation — which includes Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola and Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan — has repeatedly pushed for the Biden administration to move forward with approving the Willow Project, arguing it would benefit Alaska, the U.S. and the world by increasing oil production.

President Biden has faced pressure from both those in favor of the Willow Project and those opposed.
(Reuters/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo)

“The Willow project is enormously important, not only for the economic security of Alaska, but also for the energy security of the nation and all hardworking Americans who have suffered from record energy prices for too long,” Sullivan said in a statement shared with Fox News Digital on Wednesday. 

“I appreciate the support of the very broad-based group of Alaskans—Alaska Native communities, labor unions, leaders of the North Slope Borough, the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN), and countless others—who have strongly endorsed this project,” he continued. “For the good of Alaska and our country, we must continue to keep the pressure on this administration to produce a final record of decision that ensures this project remains economically viable with at least three drilling pads.”

“Further delaying or halting this project only serves to harm hard-working Americans, our environment, and the national security of America,” he added

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But Democrats like Grijalva and several environmental groups have strongly opposed the Willow Project, saying it would harm the environment and increase carbon emissions.

In response to the announcement Wednesday, Jeremy Lieb, an attorney for Earthjustice who has been involved in litigation opposing the project, said the project was “drastically out of step” with Biden administration’s climate goals. He added that the project would produce more than 280 million metric tons of carbon over the next three decades.

“This would be the largest single oil drilling project proposed anywhere in the U.S., and it is drastically out of step with the Biden administration’s goals to slash climate pollution and transition to clean energy,” Lieb said.

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