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With the Willow Project, Biden Walks Back His ‘No New Drilling’ Promise

“No new drilling on federal lands, period,” he said.

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

Campaign promises are a well-known farce among anyone who pays attention to politics. Still, there is a sting of unsurprised disappointment that always follows another promise to do good being broken. The Biden administration announced on March 13 that they have approved a drilling project on Alaskan federal lands. This is despite Biden promising “No new drilling on federal lands, period,” during his 2020 presidential campaign.

I guess that period wasn’t the end of the sentence.

What is the Willow Project?

In what is being called the Willow Project, the energy firm ConocoPhillips will drill into the Alaska’s North Slope in order to gain access to the oil reserves under permafrost.

Proponents of the project claim it will help lower oil prices and bolster national security by decreasing dependence on foreign oil. But critics point out that drilling through permafrost for oil will likely worsen climate change and harm the ecosystem of the area. estimated that the Willow Project alone will emit 250 million metric tons of CO2 over the course of its lifespan.

Native and Indigenous advocates in particular point out how this could have far-reaching ramifications for their own populations, many of which depend on local wildlife like caribou for food and other resources, in addition to the general health risks of living next to an oil drill.

Sonia Ahkivgak, the social outreach coordinator for the Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic organization, had this to say about the Biden administration’s approval of the drilling:

“The Biden administration’s approval makes it clear that its call for climate action and the protection of biodiversity is talk, not action… The only reasonable solution to the climate emergency is to deny new fossil fuel projects like Willow. Our fight has been long and also it has only begun. We will continue to call for a stop to Willow because the lives of local people and future generations depend on it.”

There are some Alaska Natives who support the project; however, Natives who live near the lands slated for the project point out that many of the Natives who support the project live in towns further away from the proposed site.

What’s so baffling about this is that on the day the Biden administration announced it approved the project, President Biden made an appearance on The Daily Show, in which he talked about the transition from gas, coal, and oil to sustainable, renewable sources, saying we will need to depend on fossil fuels for at least another decade as we make the transition.

In the same interview, President Biden credited his success to young people who turned out for him in 2020. The same young people who are now feeling rightfully betrayed by Biden’s actions.

It feels strange to accuse the President of the United States of being short-sighted, but I personally can’t help but feel that way. Not only will this project have untold consequences for decades to come, but the optics of this move have undoubtedly shaken young American people’s faith in Biden and his promises.

Gen Z and Millennials feel like they had their future sacrificed in the name of low gas prices, and I personally don’t blame them. I live in Arizona and the fact that we don’t have solar panels on every building in this state just proves to me that the country is not doing everything it can to make the transition happen.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t hope. Activists have sworn that the fight against the Willow Project is far from over; some are even filing lawsuits to stop the drilling.

In any case, we’ll keep an eye on the situation and report any developments.

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Kimberly Terasaki is a Creative Writing graduate, fanfiction author, and intersectional feminist. She liked Ahsoka Tano before it was cool, will fight you about Rey being a “Mary Sue,” and is a Kamala Khan stan. She appreciates all constructive criticism and genuine discussion.