Environmental activists are furious with President Biden for allowing the giant Willow oil-drilling project on federal lands in Alaska, even as his administration also battles green allies in the courts.
Climate advocates descended on Washington this week to disrupt separate events featuring a top White House climate official and the announcement of new conservation actions, demonstrations that ran parallel to events across the country slamming the nation’s largest banks for funding fossil-fuel projects.
This development is a major setback for Mr. Biden because climate advocates are a core part of his base. The relationship has grown increasing fraught as he looks to launch his 2024 campaign.
Mr. Biden and the administration reject criticism they’ve engaged in “climate hypocrisy,” despite Mr. Biden‘s now-broken campaign promise to block new drilling on public lands. The president on Tuesday pointed to conservation efforts and Democrats’ tax-and-climate spending law — the Inflation Reduction Act — as evidence his administration has made some of the largest achievements on climate change in modern history.
“In my first year in office, we protected more lands and waters than any American president since John Kennedy,” Mr. Biden said in a speech at the Department of the Interior announcing new national monuments and marine sanctuaries.
Republicans accused the administration of implementing the protections to broad swaths of federal lands and waters, which prevents future fossil fuel drilling, as a sop to activists “after taking flak from the far left on their Willow decision.”
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Outside the building where Mr. Biden spoke, protesters chanted criticism as they unfurled a giant sign that read: “Stop the Willow Oil Project.” The $8 billion ConocoPhillips venture — albeit scaled-back from previous proposals — received the go-ahead from Mr. Biden last week after years in limbo and will ultimately produce roughly 629,000 million barrels of oil from northern Arctic Alaska over its 30-year life span.
“By approving Willow, Biden betrayed us, especially young people and communities on the front lines of the climate emergency,” said Ben Goloff of the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups involved in the protests.
Administration officials have also said they have little choice but to approve the Willow project because it was so far along in the application process and they would have faced a strong legal challenge from ConocoPhillips if Mr. Biden tried to block it.
The frustration with Mr. Biden from green activists comes as a U.N.-backed climate scientists report this week warned starkly that rising global temperatures will soon be irreversible unless drastic action is taken to cease the use of fossil fuels.
“Biden is blatantly failing that test now, but he has the tools to turn this around,” Mr. Goloff said.
A small group of anti-Willow demonstrators took their grievances directly to the president’s top environmental lieutenant, preventing White House National Climate Adviser Ali Zaidi from making a speech on Monday about U.S. leadership on the issue.
According to video footage of the encounter provided to The Washington Times by a protester, Mr. Zaidi was pressed by the demonstrators at an event held by the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Mr. Biden’s Willow decision. The incident was excluded from a video of the event posted to the organization’s website.
“[Biden] said, ‘No new drilling. Period, period, period, period.’ What does that mean?” one protester asked Mr. Zaidi.
The White House official countered that “the president has taken unprecedented leadership on climate” and praised the green provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act.
“Two things can be true at the same time,” Mr. Zaidi said, adding, “We can still have a ton of work left to do to meet science-based targets.”
Mr. Zaidi did not respond to a request for comment.
Climate advocates are also battling in the courtroom with the Biden administration over oil and natural gas drilling on federal lands.
Separate ongoing lawsuits seek to scuttle Willow and upend thousands of leasing permits for new drilling in New Mexico and Wyoming also approved by the Interior Department.
• Ramsey Touchberry can be reached at email@example.com.
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