Surprise concession: Biden Administration defends Willow project in court - Must Read Alaska
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Wednesday, October 20, 2021
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Surprise concession: Biden Administration defends Willow project in court

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Although pushed hard by environmentalists and his own Department of Interior Secretary to go the other way, the Biden administration is defending the ConocoPhillips Willow project in court.

The project has the potential to put 160,000 barrels a day into the Trans Alaska Pipeline System for the next 30 years, for up to approximately 590 million total barrels of oil.

Willow is located on the edge of the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska and was approved under the Trump Administration in October. Then came the lawsuits from environmentalists who said the decision was wrong and oil contributes to global warming. Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm, sued the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace. The Biden Administration is generally hostile to oil, and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland has written formal opposition to the project when she was a congresswoman.

During a meeting with Biden on Monday, when he signed a bill allowing cruise ships to return to Alaska, the Alaska delegation of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Sen. Dan Sullivan, and Congressman Don Young told Biden that this project is vital to Alaska’s economy. According to the New York Times, on Wednesday the Biden Administration filed a brief in the case, saying the decision to go ahead on Willow was correct.

The Interior Department’s brief said that the Trump Administration’s green light for Willow complied with the environmental rules in place at the time and that Earthjustice did not challenge the approval “within the time limitations associated with environmental review projects” for the National Petroleum Reserve.

“Conoco does have valid lease rights,” the department wrote in its 70-page statement to the court.

More than 1,000 jobs are expected during peak construction of the Willow project, with more than 400 jobs coming online during the operation of it. Willow would help offset declines in production from the North Slope and the oil would be subject to royalties and revenue to the State.

“The project, known as Willow, set up a choice for the Biden administration: decline to defend oil drilling and hinder a lucrative project that conflicts with its climate policy or support a federal decision backed by the state of Alaska, some tribal nations, unions and key officials, including Lisa Murkowski, a moderate Republican senator seen as a potential ally of the administration in an evenly split Senate,” the Times wrote.

Update: Here are the statements from Alaska’s D.C. delegation in response to this action by Biden:

“Alaska’s relationship with the Biden administration got off to a rough start after the President’s sweep of a pen called for reviews – and potential halts – to a number of responsible resource development projects. 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. 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. Through their careful review, the administration reached the same conclusion that we have always known, which is that the Willow project went through a rigorous, comprehensive permitting process and can move forward because it is being held to the highest environmental and labor standards in the world,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski. 

“As a senior member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and former Committee chair, I have been aggressive in my advocacy for the Willow project. I brought the significance of the project to President Biden’s attention and many other senior White House officials on the first day of the new administration. During her confirmation process, I pressed now Interior Secretary Haaland to defend the Record of Decisions for the Willow project now being litigated in courts. I submitted multiple letters of support for the record from Alaskans and exhausted all avenues to send a clear message: this project has gone through an extraordinarily extensive process and should be allowed to proceed. The process goes all the way back to when the leases were acquired under the Clinton administration. The NEPA analysis was conducted using the Obama administration 2013 Integrated Activity Plan, which contains over 270 mitigation requirements. And a two-year long EIS process began in 2018 which included over 100 meetings with stakeholders on the North Slope and multiple public comment periods, resulting in a robust 2,600 page final EIS. The process across multiple administrations has been more than thorough. It’s time to move this project forward.

“At a time when Russia is providing more barrels of crude oil to the United States per day than Alaska, the Alaska Delegation has continued to stress to this administration the importance of this new development project located within the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska. The Willow project would not only provide a valuable resource, but could also create around 2,000 high paying jobs in Alaska and support $2.3 billion dollars in revenue for the state—a boost to the economy at a time when we need it most. I’m glad the Interior Department has listened to our advice and will now defend the litigation and allow the permit to proceed. I urge Interior to show Alaskans that their words and actions align by taking the Willow project off their “pause and review” list once and for all.”

“On Monday in the Oval Office, I, along with my fellow delegation members, had the opportunity to deliver a message directly to the President, one that we’ve been making for weeks to every member of his administration: ‘Alaska’s Willow project is one of the most environmentally responsible and rigorous energy projects in our country, and the project deserves you and your administration’s support,’” said Sen. Dan Sullivan.

“Willow will create thousands of direct and indirect jobs in Alaska, and provide opportunities and billions of dollars in revenues for our state and indigenous communities on the North Slope. It will produce American energy with the highest environmental standards at a time when we’re importing far too much from our adversaries, like Russia. I appreciate the President and Secretary Haaland for listening to us and defending this once-in-a-generation energy development that will unlock many more opportunities for our state and our country. I also want to commend the numerous Alaskans and Alaska Native leaders—especially those who live within NPR-A and on the North Slope—for weighing in with the secretary and making the case for Willow. While this is excellent news for our state, I remain deeply concerned about some of the administration’s remaining policies that are still targeting Alaska and our workers, but today’s news on Willow is very positive for Alaska, good-paying jobs for working families, and our economy.”

“This is a good day for Alaska, our energy economy, and American energy independence. I want to thank the Administration, particularly my friend, Secretary Deb Haaland, for reaching what Alaskans know to be the right conclusion: the Willow Project is legally defensible and holds great promise for our state,” said Congressman Don Young, who has a good relationship with Sec. Haaland.

 “Secretary Haaland is my friend, and while we do not always see eye to eye, I appreciate that she always listens to the Alaskan perspective with an open mind. I have advocated for the Willow Project in conversations with her for quite some time, and I am grateful for her attention on this issue. By halting the Willow Project, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a devastating blow to Alaska’s energy workers, their families, and all who would benefit from responsible resource development in the NPR-A. The Willow Project is years in the making, and countless individuals at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) worked hard to ensure a thorough environmental review. Late last year, when the Record of Decision was issued, BLM made clear that Willow could proceed all while protecting our environment. It is my great hope that in court, with the Administration on our side, we will ultimately succeed so that this project can deliver the good-paying jobs and affordable energy that Alaskans deserve.”

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Written by

Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • All right for the Alaskan economy. This success will make the anti Murkowski crowd heads explode.

  • Biden’s “shakedown cruise” must have begun to divert the money flow into the correct pockets. Now he’s willing to “play nice”.

  • Perhaps one of Hunter, Joe, Jim, and Valerie Biden’s Chinese companies is in the loop somewhere…..

  • After experiencing last years and this years City Hall Mayors and Assembly radical leadership, the last two Alaska Delegation surprises. I am questioning how effective Murkowski and Sullivan wouldn’t be if they didn’t Don Young around who can talk well with radicals such as Halland and the such. To hear these two can see eachother as friends, this kind of communication ability is just not seen today anymore. Even Allard, Kennedy, and Wellington doesnt have that communication ability to talk and to press their radicalized colleagues into doing something surprisingly and different.
    Alaska be a sadder and more chaotic mess when Don Young leaves us, cause both the Democrats and Republicans have no one suitable to replace him.

  • Beware of the smiling snake. It’s all about dollars and votes. I’m sure Murkowski is tagged in some way and Biden is trying to save her bacon which is impossible. Harbor boy, don’t you have something better to do then come on here and troll important events? Don’t you have a math paper due sometime?

  • Nothing to see here. Payback maybe? Lisa just voiced her support for the January 6th commission.

  • I am not sure why Senator Murkowski is the focus of this good news. Rep Young and Senator Sullivan are the majority of the Alaska delegation. Those two are reliable in what they will do. Senator Murkowski is unreliable for both left and right.

  • What will the outcome be, from the courts.
    I Still don’t trust Lisa what is she getting out of this.
    Drill Baby Drill

  • Careful Don. Don’t stand too close to Biden. Studies show that Alzheimers can be contagious. Biden probably thinks that Willow is a big park in Alaska for old people to recreate at. If Lisa gets Alzheimers……no biggie.

  • The delegation knows where their bread and butter comes from and probably knows how to spread it around a bit. Always follow the money trail in politics. All three of these posers are in it for themselves and are constantly running for re-election.

  • @Harborguy


  • Harborguy not a chance!

  • Why all this negativity in the comments about an action that will benefit Alaskans? Seems like whatever Biden does, it will be scorned, no matter the outcome. There are going to be a lot of spiteful noses dangling if this keeps up.

  • A hardened cynic might say Biden’s “concession” has much less to do with oil drilling
    …than it does with keeping a moderate so-called Republican firmly indebted to the Democrat administration by helping her re-election campaign.
    Mustn’t forget Alaska’s Native Corporations either, arguably the Senator’s principal employers who might decide to support someone else if the Senator fails them…
    Then there’s the timing… gosh, look what Alaska’s senior senator was able to do for us just before election wouldn’t you know
    …that Kelly Tshibaka of course could never do for us.

  • Oh i see how this works now. AK ‘conservatives’ cave on fundamentally conservative principles so we can keep the Federal Government and oil companies happy. So it’s an oiligarchy? The. we keep people employed who don’t even live here. After years living here I finally GET IT!

  • The Alaska Delegation gets a payoff for saying nothing when Biden and the Democrats stole the 2020 election. Murkowski, Sullivan and Young are traitors for allowing the Democrats to steal the presidency and, likely, numerous House and Senate seats. I’ll never give any of them my vote again.

  • MORRIGAN wrote:
    “A hardened cynic might say Biden’s “concession” has much less to do with oil drilling
    …than it does with keeping a moderate so-called Republican firmly indebted to the Democrat administration by helping her re-election campaign.”

    BINGO! That is exactly what just went down. It was beginning to look pretty grim for Murks, but now she pulls a rabbit out of the hat. “See? I am keeping the oil industry alive in Alaska. Me. Me. Me.”
    Morrigan, you beat me to it. Much better for Cheatin’ Joe to make this concession and keep one of the most powerful defacto Democrats (masquerading as a Republican) in office to help further his agenda (as she has). Don and Dan are just along for the ride.

  • MORRIGAN wrote:
    “A hardened cynic might say Biden’s “concession” has much less to do with oil drilling
    …than it does with keeping a moderate so-called Republican firmly indebted to the Democrat administration by helping her re-election campaign.”

    BINGO! That is exactly what just went down. It was beginning to look pretty grim for Murks, but now she pulls a rabbit out of the hat. “See? I am keeping the oil industry alive in Alaska. Me. Me. Me.”
    Morrigan, you beat me to it. Much better for Cheatin’ Joe to make this concession and keep one of the most powerful defacto Democrats (masquerading as a Republican) in office to help further his agenda (as she has). Don and Dan are just along for the ride.
    Color me a “hardened cynic”.

  • Payoff. Vote buying and nothing more.

  • See, he’s not such a bad guy after all. Maybe you all should dial back the opprobrium a bit.

  • What did Lisa promise? Quid Pro Joe’s puppet masters don’t give anything for free.

  • Career politicians suckith.

  • GREG R. a snake is never to be trusted.

  • Greg Forkner, at almost 66 I don’t have any math papers due. It is fun to troll you folks that cry that the admin isn’t doing enough for Alaska and then when they do something positive for the Alaskan economy you fall all over yourselves making excuses. Two faced for sure.

  • Is a key element of dementia inconsistency?

    Did he forget that he’s anti-oil?

  • Biden needed to throw Murkowski a bone in order to secure her key vote, Something big is coming!

  • Interesting photo of the gang. A carpetbagger Senator who “married-in” to Alaska; a Congressman who’s been in office so long that he doesn’t care which political party gives him money; another Senator who hates her own party and would rather be given a title of royalty because of who she thinks she is; and a counterfeit President who was not legitimately elected and forgets who he is and where he is 12 hours a day (when he isn’t sleeping). And these are the people who tell us how to live? Pathetic!

  • What concerns me is that this is all a sham. As Suzanne pointed out (in the newsletter) there is really no howling and wringing of hands from the environmental left. This leaves one to wonder if the fix isn’t in. Joe lets the DOJ defend it in court, Lisa gets the good vibes and then the court will do their dirty work for them, by canning the whole thing after all.

  • The “big guy” wants his cut. I see two senators that need replacing. The “big guy” does not give away anything for free. Strings are attached.

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