Climate activists hold a demonstration

Climate activists hold a demonstration to urge President Biden to reject the Willow Project at the U.S. Department of Interior on November 17, 2022 in Washington, D.C.

(Photo: Jemal Countess/Getty Images for Sunrise AU)

'No Form of This Project Is OK': Climate Groups Reject White House Push for Willow Compromise

"Climate change is melting Alaska's glaciers," said the Alaska Wilderness League. "We can't afford to dig the hole any deeper with bad ideas like the Willow Project."

Climate advocates on Wednesday intensified their warnings to the Biden administration against approving oil giant ConocoPhillips' Willow project in Alaska, rejecting attempts by White House officials to reach a "compromise" on a drilling project that would generate an estimated 9.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide a year.

Even approval of a "scaled back version" of the Willow project, said former Sierra Club president Dave Scott, would lead to "a tragedy environmentalists know all too well."

As The Washington Post reported Wednesday, White House officials have been in talks with groups including the Alaska Wilderness League, Earthjustice, and the Sierra Club and have suggested a new ban on offshore drilling near the state's northern coast as well as other habitat protections to be paired with the approval of two drilling pads for the Willow project.

"Rejecting a project like Willow should be a no-brainer for a climate leader like Biden. And if he doesn't, it'll be a stain on his legacy."

ConocoPhillips has suggested it may cancel plans for the project unless three drilling pads are approved, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) said last month in its environmental impact statement that the project could include three pads and protect crucial habitats for yellow-billed loons and caribou. Alaska lawmakers including Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) and Rep. Mary Peltola (D) have pushed the White House to move forward with the three-pad proposal.

Climate groups, however, have pointed to the consensus among scientific and energy experts who say continued oil and gas extraction has no place in a pathway to avoiding global heating above 1.5°C, and to the objections of Iñupiat people in the community of Nuiqsut, close to the planned project site.

Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic has raised concerns about the project leading to food insecurity, poor air quality and its link to high rates of cancer and asthma, and accelerated heating of the Arctic region, which is already warming more rapidly than the rest of the planet.

Willow "would be a climate disaster," said Lena Moffitt, chief of staff for Evergreen Action, on Wednesday. "As the single largest oil and gas project proposed on U.S. public lands, it would be a gateway to significant new extraction—at a time when we need to be ramping down fossil fuels, not opening up vast new fields."

Speaking to the Post, Moffitt said that "rejecting a project like Willow should be a no-brainer for a climate leader like Biden," who last year signed into law the largest investment in climate action in U.S. history, the Inflation Reduction Act.

"And if he doesn't, it'll be a stain on his legacy," she added. “No form of this project is okay.”

The 30-year Willow project would involve drilling on top of permafrost and creating chilling tubes to keep the ice frozen as the Arctic continues to grow hotter. The emissions it would generate would be the equivalent of those caused by nearly two million fossil fuel-powered cars.

The Interior Department has said it has "substantial concerns" about the approval of the form of the project proposed by the BLM last month.

The Biden administration could announce its final decision regarding permits for the project as soon as Monday.

In recent days, as the White House has attempted to convince climate groups to accept a scaled-back version of the Willow project, opponents have intensified their calls for Biden to reject ConocoPhillips' plans, with Earthjustice calling the proposal "a bomb waiting to happen."

"Climate change is melting Alaska's glaciers," said the Alaska Wilderness League on social media Thursday, linking to an article about the harm global heating is already doing to the state's tourism industry. "We can't afford to dig the hole any deeper with bad ideas like the Willow Project."

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