Biden Climate Approval Plummets After Willow Oil Drilling Greenlighted
"Voters strongly support transitioning to clean energy projects instead of building fossil fuel projects on public lands," according to new research published as the White House moved forward with a massive lease sale.
Survey data published Wednesday shows that the U.S. electorate's approval of President Joe Biden's handling of the climate crisis has declined since October.
Voters' approval fell even further after they were made aware of the incongruence between Biden's 2020 campaign trail vow to end oil and gas leasing on public lands and his administration's March 13 move to rubber-stamp ConocoPhillips' massive Willow drilling project on federally controlled territory in the Alaskan Arctic.
The decline in support has been most pronounced among Democrats, Independents, and voters under 50, according to polling conducted by Data for Progress and Fossil Free Media.
From October 21-25 and then again from March 17-21, researchers asked respondents if they approved or disapproved of how the Biden administration has addressed climate change and the environment before mentioning any specific policy or decision.
Five months ago, 82% of Democrats, 37% of Independents, and 10% of Republicans gave Biden a thumbs up on this issue. Just over a week ago, approval had decreased among Democrats and Independents, with 69% and 30% of such voters expressing support for the president's climate performance. Meanwhile, Republican support for Biden's environmental policies increased to 17% during this time period.
The drop in support was even steeper among younger voters. In October, 37% of voters 40-49, 51% of voters 30-39, and 48% of voters 18-29 said they approved of the Biden administration's handling of climate change and the environment. Those percentages have decreased across all three age groups, with just 35% of voters 40-49, 45% of voters 30-39, and 35% of voters 18-29 giving the president a passing grade on the issue earlier this month.
"If the move to approve Willow was intended to win the favor of Independents concerned about high energy prices, this research suggests it may not have landed as intended."
Notably, the aforementioned decline in support for Biden's climate performance since October among Democrats (13% drop), Independents (7% drop), and voters aged 18-29 (13% drop) doesn't take into account the president's Willow betrayal. Data for Progress and Fossil Free Media first tested for approval before introducing respondents to the president's campaign promises and news of his administration's decision to greenlight the largest oil drilling endeavor on public land in U.S. history.
Although awareness of the Willow project has increased since October when 71% of voters said they hadn't heard, seen, or read anything at all about the climate-wrecking venture, 52% of voters were still completely unaware of it when surveyed from March 17-21.
After measuring baseline support, pollsters reminded voters of Biden's campaign pledge to ban new fossil fuel leasing on public lands and informed them about his administration's recent approval of the Willow project, which seeks to extract more than 600 million barrels of crude from Alaska's North Slope over the next 30 years. Then, pollsters retested their original question.
Once this contrast was made explicit, public approval of Biden's climate performance plummeted. Net approval measured in March fell by 33 points among Democrats and 12 points among Independents. It's worth noting that in October, Biden enjoyed a net climate approval rating of 68 points among Democrats.
Young voters' disappointment was also palpable, with net approval measured in March falling by 1 point among voters 18-29, 16 points among voters 30-39, and 5 points among voters 40-49.
It's unclear why the Biden administration refused to use its authority to halt a fossil fuel project capable of spewing about 280 million metric tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere on the same day United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres warned that the planet is reaching a "point of no return." Environmental advocacy groups have responded with lawsuits.
Biden may be enjoying higher approval ratings on environmental issues if he had blocked Conoco's drilling proposal. According to Data for Progress and Fossil Free Media, voters remain supportive of the president's original campaign promises on climate.
Researchers also asked respondents whether the federal government should prioritize the production of renewable energy or fossil energy on public lands.
By a 21-point margin, voters said they want new energy developments on public lands to be green, such as wind and solar farms—not planet-heating oil and gas drilling sites.
"This research shows that voters strongly support transitioning to clean energy projects instead of building fossil fuel projects on public lands," wrote Anika Dandekar, a senior analyst at Data for Progress.
The recent approval of the Willow project "not only undermines Biden's campaign promise to transition to a fully clean power sector by no later than 2035, but also may explain why Democrats, Independents, and voters under 50 increasingly disapprove of the Biden administration's handling of climate change and the environment," she noted.
"Younger generations, most likely to be impacted by the further degradation of the environment, are paying attention," Dandekar continued. "Furthermore, if the move to approve Willow was intended to win the favor of Independents concerned about high energy prices, this research suggests it may not have landed as intended."
"If the Biden administration wants to maintain support from these important demographics," she added, "it will need to continue taking bold actions to curb emissions and keep its promises."
Notably, the White House is facing fresh criticism on Wednesday over its decision to plow ahead with Lease Sale 259, one of the largest offshore auctions in U.S. history. Earlier this month, several green groups filed a lawsuit to challenge the sale, which offered more than 73 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico to the highest-bidding oil and gas drillers.
"President Biden's decision to once again sacrifice an enormous portion of the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas drilling is unconscionable," Nicole Ghio, senior fossil fuels program manager at Friends of the Earth, said in a statement. "Reviving lease sales and greenlighting massive fossil fuel projects demonstrates the administration cares more about Big Oil profits than frontline communities and endangered species."
"Reviving lease sales and greenlighting massive fossil fuel projects demonstrates the administration cares more about Big Oil profits than frontline communities and endangered species."
"We will continue pushing Biden to take his long-held climate promises seriously and stop locking us into decades of dirty energy," said Ghio.
A 2021 lawsuit filed by many of the same groups led a federal judge to vacate Lease Sale 257, the nation's largest-ever offshore auction wherein more than 80 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico were offered to the fossil fuel industry.
Despite Biden's campaign pledge to curtail new fossil fuel projects on public lands and waters, his administration has approved more permits for oil and gas drilling on public lands in its first two years than the Trump administration did in 2017 and 2018.
Two weeks ago, a trio of groups filed a 30-day notice of their intent to sue the Biden administration for refusing to respond to a petition to wind down fossil fuel extraction on public lands and waters.
Signed by a coalition of more than 360 progressive advocacy organizations, the January 2022 petition submitted to Biden and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland provides a blueprint to reduce federal oil and gas production by 98% by 2035 using long-dormant provisions of the Mineral Leasing Act, Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, and the National Emergencies Act.
Research published after the petition was filed shows that wealthy countries must end oil and gas production entirely by 2034 to give the world a 50% chance of limiting global warming to 1.5°C—beyond which the climate emergency's impacts will grow increasingly deadly, particularly for the world's poor who have done the least to cause the crisis.
After the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its latest assessment report last week, Guterres demanded "a quantum leap in climate action," including a prohibition on approving and financing new coal, oil, and gas projects as well as a phaseout of existing fossil fuel production.