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AOC, Bowman Call for Biden Administration to Reverse Willow Oil Project Approval

Climate groups have warned that the project would release a “carbon bomb.”

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland looks on during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on March 29, 2023.

A group of 33 House Democrats is urging Biden administration officials to heed calls from numerous climate and Indigenous groups to suspend a permit that would allow fossil fuel giant ConocoPhillips to construct a massive drilling operation on pristine Alaskan land.

The lawmakers, led by Representatives Jamaal Bowman (D-New York), Jared Huffman (D-California) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), said that the administration should suspend the permit while the $8 billion project is in litigation, and reject future permits that the company may file to pursue the project.

“Given the permanent damage ConocoPhillips’ preliminary construction efforts will inflict on the surrounding ecosystem and community, necessary steps must be taken to mitigate harm as it undergoes comprehensive review,” the group wrote in a letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on Thursday. “Suspending the Right of Way Permit and rejecting future filings by ConocoPhillips … would ensure we take the right steps for our future and grant all stakeholders the chance to be heard.”

Numerous groups are in the midst of suing the Biden administration for its approval of the massive oil and gas drilling undertaking known as the Willow project, alleging that administration officials are running afoul of their duties to properly assess the climate impacts of the project, in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Endangered Species Act, Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act, and others. In a separate lawsuit, plaintiffs say that officials are failing their duty to protect the land and wildlife in approving the project.

President Joe Biden’s approval of Willow last month enraged climate and Indigenous groups, who say that the project would release a “carbon bomb.” It would not only push the world further into the climate crisis, they say, but also result in pollution and other effects that would endanger the local community.

The lawmakers expressed support of the climate groups’ arguments. “DOI has not provided sufficient time to comprehensively review the well-grounded litigation against Willow’s approval,” they wrote. “Given the extensive claims, DOI should halt any advancement of the Project until the litigation is decided in the courts.”

They further said that the White House should not fear legal repercussions in suspending the project, and that federal laws allow officials to levy restrictions on the drilling in the area.

Democrats, along with hundreds of climate and Indigenous groups, have been urging Biden to stop the Willow project for months, pointing out that moving forward goes against Biden’s campaign promise for “no more drilling on federal lands, period, period, period.”

“Young people are our future. When @POTUS approved the Willow Project after over a million people sent letters to him asking him not to, I knew we couldn’t end our fight there,” Bowman said of the letter on Thursday.

Although the Biden administration has slightly reduced the size of the project, climate groups say that there is no compromising with the climate crisis that “no form” of the project is acceptable in the face of climate disaster.

Drilling activities have already begun. Just days after Biden gave ConocoPhillips the greenlight for Willow, the company began hauling equipment to the area, starting work on the project that the company hopes to keep alive for decades to come.

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