Biden administration offers support for Alaska’s Willow Project

 (AP Photo/Judy Patrick, File)
(AP Photo/Judy Patrick, File) (KTUU)
Updated: May. 27, 2021 at 11:18 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Biden administration filed a brief Wednesday to the U.S. District Court of Alaska in support of ConocoPhillips’ defense in a case that is challenging its potential drilling access in the state’s National Petroleum Reserve.

The project is said to create about 2,000 high-paying jobs in Alaska and could provide $2.3 billion in revenue for the state, according to Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

The U.S. Department of Justice’s 70-page document argues that the agencies that helped the Trump administration approve the Willow Master Development Plan Project in October 2020 followed environmental and endangered species laws.

Conservation groups and indigenous groups filed a suit following the approval. Their argument stated that the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service miscalculated the possible harm to wildlife. The groups also believed BLM did not plan accordingly to guarantee the safety of Arctic communities and public health.

The Biden administration initially called for reviews of the agencies’ work to potentially halt ConocoPhillips’ drilling capabilities in the petroleum reserve. The department’s recent brief suggests a change of opinion on the Trump administration’s decision.

Groups like the Alaska Wilderness League have negatively called out the Biden administration on that point.

“President Biden’s early executive actions suggested a new era of bold and visionary federal leadership in fighting climate change and prioritizing environmental justice,” said Kristen Miller, acting executive director of the league, in an official statement through email. “Unfortunately, the decision to defend a Trump-era project that ignored the concerns of local Indigenous communities and failed to adequately address risks to our climate future is just incredibly disappointing and a decision we will continue to fight.”

On the other hand, the Alaska Delegation and the governor have all shared their approval of the Biden administration’s support for ConocoPhillips’ case.

“I’ve been working from the get-go to educate the new administration on why the Willow project is so important to Alaska’s economy, the communities on the North Slope, and the thousands of people who are employed in the region,” said Murkowski in response to the announcement. “I am pleased to share that the Department of the Interior has filed a brief in support of Willow and has committed to supporting the project moving forward.”

Sen. Dan Sullivan also spoke out in praise for the decision from President Biden in a Twitter thread.

“Willow will create thousands of direct and indirect jobs in Alaska, provide opportunities and billions of dollars in revenues for our state and indigenous communities on the North Slope, and produce American energy with the highest environmental standards,” Sullivan added in his Twitter thread.

Rep. Don Young expressed his thanks to the Biden administration through Twitter.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s office issued an official statement noting the reserve’s purpose for the country and how it could help the U.S. reach energy independence.

“It is worth reminding that Willow is located in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, which specifically designated the need of oil development in the area for national security purposes,” said the governor’s office through email Thursday morning. “With global instability rising, the supply of oil and gas to the United States is vital to our nation’s energy independence, and Alaska is ready to do its part keeping the country free of resource coercion.”

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