Haaland criticized the “difficult” choice in the Willow project

WASHINGTON (AP) — In early March, President Joe Biden met with members of Alaska’s bipartisan congressional delegation as they pleaded with him to authorize a controversial oil drilling project in their state. around the same time, Home Secretary Deb Haaland held a completely different meeting on the same subject.

Leaders from major environmental organizations and Indigenous groups gathered at the Interior Department’s headquarters, half a mile (0.8 kilometers) from the White House, and asked Haaland to the first Indian cabinet memberto use their power to block the Willow Oil Project. Environmental groups are calling the project a “carbon bomb” that would betray commitments made by Biden – and Haaland – to tackle climate change, and have set up social media #StopWillow campaign that has been seen a hundred million times.

The closed-door meeting, described by two attendees who insisted on not being identified because of their confidential nature, turned emotional when attendees urged Haaland to oppose a project many believed to be Biden likely to approve, even though it went against his agenda Cut planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030.

Haaland, who defied Willow while she was serving in Congress, choked on explaining that the Home Office had to make tough decisions, according to attendees. Many Alaskan Indigenous groups support Willow as a job generator and economic lifeline.

Less than two weeks later, the Biden administration announced it would approve Willow, an $8 billion ConocoPhillips drilling plan on Alaska’s oil-rich North Slope.

Haaland, who has not spoken publicly about Willow for two years as head of the US agency overseeing the project, was not involved in the announcement and did not sign the permitting order, which she left to her deputy Tommy Beaudreau.

In a funny video Released Monday night, 10 hours after the decision was published, Haaland said she and Biden, both Democrats, believe the climate crisis “is the most pressing issue of our lives.”

Calling Willow “a difficult and complex problem inherited from previous administrations,” she noted that ConocoPhillips has long held oil well leases on the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska property.

“As a result, we have limited decision-making power,” she said, adding that officials are focused on reducing the project’s footprint “and minimizing its impact on people and wildlife.” The final approval reflects a much smaller project than ConocoPhillips originally proposed and includes a commitment by the Houston-based oil company to relinquish nearly 70,000 acres (28,000 hectares) of leased land that is no longer being developed, she said.

The video had received more than 100,000 views as of early Friday.

Haaland declined to be interviewed for this story. However, in a statement, the department said Haaland had been “actively involved” in the Willow decision from the beginning and has met with Alaska Natives on both sides of the issue, conservationists and other groups and members of Congress. “This includes an appearance with members of the Alaska Federation of Natives who were in town the week before the announcement,” the department said.

Dallas Goldtooth, a senior strategist with the Indigenous Environmental Network, called it “problematic” that Haaland’s video was the Biden administration’s primary voice on Willow. Biden himself has not commented publicly on the project.

“They use people of color to cover for those decisions,” said Goldtooth, a member of the Mdewakanton Dakota tribe.

Allowing Haaland to be the public face of government on Willow is ’empowering’ Biden’s expected re-election run by allowing him to avoid public scrutiny on an issue on which some of his most ardent supporters disagree with him, Goldtooth said.

“It’s clear DC policy,” he said. “I’ve seen this piece before,” including when former Biden environmental justice adviser Cecilia Martinez was suggested to address tribes’ concerns about two other energy projects Dakota Access And line 3 Oil pipelines in the upper Midwest.

When asked about Willow on Thursday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that the oil company “has a legal right to these leases,” adding, “The department’s options are limited if it is.” legal contracts exist.”

Goldtooth and others involved in the Willow fight say the project was largely driven by Haaland’s deputy Beaudreau, who grew up in Alaska and has close ties to the state’s two Republican senators. Beaudreau is particularly close to Senator Lisa Murkowski, a former Energy Senate chair who has worked with Biden on a number of issues. Murkowski played a key role in Haaland’s confirmationand she and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia teamed up to install Beaudreau as deputy after objecting to Haaland’s first pick, Elizabeth Klein.

Murkowski told reporters this week that she and other Alaskan officials had long recognized that the decision on Willow would likely be made by the White House, despite repeated comments from Jean-Pierre that the decision was a matter for the Interior Department.

The senator, who personally endorsed Biden for Willow for nearly two years, said she reminded him, “The collaboration goes both ways.”

Despite White House involvement, Haaland has come under fire over the decision to approve Willow. Senior New Mexico Democratic Senator Martin Heinrich has criticized her in a rare rebuke from another New Mexico Democrat. Haaland represented the state in Congress before becoming Home Secretary.

“The Western Arctic is one of the last great wild landscapes on the planet and as public lands it belongs to every American,” Heinrich said in a statement. “Industrial development in this pristine landscape will not age well.”

Rep. Melanie Stansbury, DN.M., who holds Haaland’s former seat in Congress, said she has been joined by millions of people, “including Indigenous leaders, scientists and lawmakers, who oppose the Willow Project.” She called for the Biden administration to reconsider this project and its implications for Global Climate Change.

Native American tribes in the US Southwest have been watching Willow closely, concerned about possible developmental implications in culturally significant areas, including Chaco Culture National Historical Park in northwestern New Mexico.

A federal appeals court ruled that the Interior Department failed to consider the cumulative impact of greenhouse gas emissions that would result the approval of nearly 200 drilling permits in an area around the Chaco site.

Haaland, a member of Laguna Pueblo, visited Chaco in 2021 and informed tribal leaders that the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management was working to withdraw hundreds of square miles (hundreds of square kilometers) from development. She also pledged to take a broader look at how federal lands in the region can be better managed while considering environmental impacts and cultural preservation.

Mario Atencio of Diné CARE, a Navajo environmental group, said he understands the Interior Department is facing Pressure from GOP lawmakers Drilling increase as well as contradictory Court rulings on Biden-ordered pause in oil leasing on public land.

“We’re very aware that sometimes it’s an inch game, and in some places there’s a little bit of discretion, and we’re just trying to have as much visibility as the oil and gas industry does,” said Atencio, who is Navajo .

The Willow Project has divided Alaska Native groups. Proponents have called the project balanced, saying communities would benefit from the taxes Willow generates to invest in infrastructure and provide public services.

Nuiqsut City Mayor Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, whose community of about 525 is closest to the proposed development, opposes the project, concerned about the impact on the caribou and the livelihoods of its residents.


Associated Press writer Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, NM contributed to this story.

Source : news.yahoo.com

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