Congressional Democrats rally against Biden-approved Willow Project in Alaska

As the legal challenges continue, the fate of the Willow Project remains a pivotal issue at the intersection of climate policy, Indigenous rights, and U.S. energy strategy.

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A coalition of Democrats from both the House and the Senate is lending its support to a lawsuit aimed at halting the controversial Willow Project in Alaska. Approved by the Biden administration last year, the project has drawn criticism for its potential environmental impact on Alaska’s pristine North Slope, with climate advocates labeling it a “carbon bomb.”

Led by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-California), 16 lawmakers, including prominent figures like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) and Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts), have filed an amicus brief with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The brief challenges a November district court decision that allowed the Willow Project to proceed, arguing that it violates U.S. laws and congressional intent regarding environmental protection.

In their legal brief, the lawmakers argue that the Willow Project does not serve the interests of all Americans and thus violates federal land protections. They assert that federal regulators are neglecting climate considerations set by their administration by advancing the project. “Due to national security and environmental considerations, modern-day United States policy embodies a pressing need to reduce national reliance on non-renewable energy sources,” the brief states, emphasizing the policy contradiction posed by the Willow Project.

The lawmakers have expressed concern that the lower court misinterpreted the Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act (NPRPA) and sidelined the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). They argue that while the district judge cited NPRPA’s directive for expeditious oil and gas leasing, she overlooked environmental protection provisions, including mandates to mitigate adverse effects on the region’s resources.

The Willow Project is set to be constructed in a predominantly Native American area in Alaska, within the National Petroleum Reserve, which is the largest piece of pristine land in the U.S. Climate advocates warn that the project could release nearly 260 million metric tons of carbon emissions, equivalent to a third of the yearly emissions from U.S. coal plants, exacerbating the climate crisis.

The legal challenge against the Willow Project is a combination of lawsuits brought by Earthjustice and Trustees for Alaska, representing a coalition of climate groups and Indigenous organizations. The lawsuits were filed after the Biden administration greenlit the project last March, despite campaign promises against new drilling on federal lands.

In their friend of the court brief, the group of Democratic lawmakers, including Senator Sanders, who caucuses with the Democrats, have urged the court to halt the Willow Project. They argue that the Interior Department should not have authorized ConocoPhillips’ Willow project in such a critical and pristine area of Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve.

As the legal challenges continue, the fate of the Willow Project remains a pivotal issue at the intersection of climate policy, Indigenous rights, and U.S. energy strategy.

In their collective statement, the lawmakers stressed, “The environmental protection provisions in the NPRPA are important, intentional inclusions of Congress.”

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Alexandra Jacobo is a dedicated progressive writer, activist, and mother with a deep-rooted passion for social justice and political engagement. Her journey into political activism began in 2011 at Zuccotti Park, where she supported the Occupy movement by distributing blankets to occupiers, marking the start of her earnest commitment to progressive causes. Driven by a desire to educate and inspire, Alexandra focuses her writing on a range of progressive issues, aiming to foster positive change both domestically and internationally. Her work is characterized by a strong commitment to community empowerment and a belief in the power of informed public action. As a mother, Alexandra brings a unique and personal perspective to her activism, understanding the importance of shaping a better world for future generations. Her writing not only highlights the challenges we face but also champions the potential for collective action to create a more equitable and sustainable world.

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