- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer is dodging questions on President Biden’s decision to greenlight an $8 billion oil project on federal lands in Alaska, as environmentalists and Democrats seethe over the energy venture.

Mr. Biden approved the ConocoPhillips oil project known as Willow on Monday, dishing a major defeat to clean energy allies but a major win for energy advocates. Alaska’s bipartisan lawmakers said it will be an economic game changer for the state.

Mr. Schumer wants to avoid the subject altogether.

Prompted about Willow by reporters on Wednesday, the New York Democrat pivoted to chastise a broad energy proposal from House Republicans to boost fossil fuel production and roll back environmental rules that the GOP majority is making its top priority by designating it as H.R. 1.

“The bottom line is that this H.R. 1, as I said, is a bill just for the oil companies,” the New York Democrat said. “It doesn’t deal [with] what we need for clean energy, and we need to get something done better.”

Mr. Biden’s stamp of approval for Willow came amid high political stakes ahead of his expected reelection announcement.

But Democrats and green activists say the president is undercutting his climate agenda and emphasize that he broke a campaign pledge to halt new oil and natural gas drilling on federal lands.

“This decision not only leaves an oil stain on the administration’s climate accomplishments and the president’s commitment not to permit new oil and gas drilling on federal land, but slows our progress in the fight for a more livable future and puts into harm’s way the neighboring Native Village of Nuiqsut and the Arctic landscape,” said Sen. Ed Markey, Massachusetts Democrat and co-author of the Green New Deal.

Willow, when operational in the years to come, will extract up to 180,000 barrels of oil per day from the northern Arctic region of Alaska with the potential to produce more than 600,000 million barrels over three decades. 

By comparison, the U.S. produces a little more than 12 million barrels per day, meaning Willow will account for roughly 1.5% of the country’s total production.

Willow will also emit roughly 260 million metric tons of carbon emissions, according to Interior Department estimates, equivalent to what activists say is about 66 coal-fired power plants.

In tandem with Willow, the administration announced it would safeguard roughly 16 million acres of federal land and water in Alaska from fossil fuel drilling. But it only frustrated energy advocates and failed to appease climate hawks. 

In a joint statement from Mr. Markey and Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Jared Huffman of California, and Raul Grijalva of Arizona, said despite the administration’s actions to combat climate change, the “decision to approve the Willow project fails to live up to those promises.”

• Ramsey Touchberry can be reached at rtouchberry@washingtontimes.com.

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