United States Senator Maria Cantwell, D‑Washington, has weighed in on the side of conservationists as the Biden-Harris administration readies a decision on ConocoPhillips $6 billion oil drilling project in Arctic Alaska.
Cantwell joined a letter — also signed by Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, but not any Washington colleagues — opposing the Willow Project.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has recommended scaled-back approval with three rather than five drilling platforms.
The potential devastation to Arctic ecosystems, from climate damage, “is irreversible and irresponsible to future generations,” said Cantwell. “Oil companies already have record profits and access to drilling rights on millions of acres of public lands which they should be using to meet our current fossil fuel needs.”
Pressing against the Willow Project are such groups as the Sierra Club and Evergreen Action, an environmental action organization with roots in Governor Jay Inslee’s brief presidential foray.
The Alaska congressional delegation, North Slope native groups and labor have rallied to Willow, and met with President Biden to make their case.
“Alaska’s delegation and North Slope people are speaking as loudly as we can about the importance of the Willow Project: It’s time for D.C. to listen,” said newly elected Democratic U.S. Representative Mary Peltola.
The Willow Project would be located in the National Petroleum Reserve, which is a tract of federal land located to the west of Prudhoe Bay.
It is projected to yield six hundred million barrels of oil over thirty years. It would send $17 billion in revenue to federal, state, and regional coffers.
The Biden-Harris administration has reportedly offered sweeteners to environmentalists, such as a ban on offshore drilling in Arctic Ocean waters.
Cantwell has championed conservation in the Last Frontier, and won important victories of late. The Biden-Harris administration has used the federal Clean Water Act to block a massive open pit mine (the proposed Pebble Mine) that the mining lobby wanted to locate between two prime Bristol Bay salmon streams. It has put old growth forests in the Tongass National Forest off limits to logging.
Willow is a very big deal. It has been carefully designed to preserve permafrost and minimize the “footprint” on tundra and wetlands. But it would generate an estimated 9.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide a year.
Once more, as with the battle over oil drilling in the Arctic Refuge, Cantwell is pitted against a sometime collaborator, Senator Lisa Murkowski, R‑Alaska.
Willow is, in Murkowski’s words, “an environmentally sound and job creating project that must be approved.” It was approved during the Trump regime, but a federal judge deemed the environmental studies inadequate.
In opposition, words from Sen. Martin Heinrich, D‑New Mexico: “I would urge President Biden to ask himself what he thinks Americans will value more a century from now: a few barrels of oil that are already long gone, or the protection of one of the world’s truly great wildlife spectacles.”