Biden Administration Defends Alaska’s Willow Project in Court
Determines project ROD finalized under Trump administration to be legally sufficient after review
WASHINGTON—The U.S. Department of Justice filed a brief yesterday with the U.S. District Court for Alaska defending the Willow project, a significant energy development within the National Petroleum Reserve of Alaska (NPR-A) on Alaska’s North Slope that has been halted by litigation. The Biden administration in January announced it would review the final Record of Decision (ROD) for the Willow Master Development Plan (MDP), approved in October of 2020 by the Trump administration, for consistency with the administration’s initial executive orders on addressing climate change. The administration has finished that review, as well, finding the ROD legally sufficient. The filing follows weeks of advocacy and outreach by Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, and Congressman Don Young, (all R-Alaska) to members of the Biden administration, including directly with the President.
The Willow project, proposed by ConocoPhillips for an area of NPR-A west of the Greater Mooses Tooth-1 and Greater Mooses Tooth-2 developments, is estimated to provide more than 100,000 barrels of oil per day at peak production, $10 billion in revenue for state, local and federal governments during its lifespan, 2,000 construction jobs, and 300 permanent jobs.
“Alaska’s relationship with the Biden administration got off to a rough start after the President’s sweep of a pen called for reviews – and potential halts - to a number of responsible resource development projects. I’ve been working from the get-go to educate the new administration on why the Willow project is so important to Alaska’s economy, the communities on the North Slope, and the thousands of people who are employed in the region. I am pleased to share that the Department of the Interior has filed a brief in support of Willow and has committed to supporting the project moving forward. Through their careful review, the administration reached the same conclusion that we have always known, which is that the Willow project went through a rigorous, comprehensive permitting process and can move forward because it is being held to the highest environmental and labor standards in the world,” said Senator Murkowski.
“As a senior member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and former Committee chair, I have been aggressive in my advocacy for the Willow project. I brought the significance of the project to President Biden’s attention and many other senior White House officials on the first day of the new administration. During her confirmation process, I pressed now Interior Secretary Haaland to defend the Record of Decisions for the Willow project now being litigated in courts. I submitted multiple letters of support for the record from Alaskans and exhausted all avenues to send a clear message: this project has gone through an extraordinarily extensive process and should be allowed to proceed. The process goes all the way back to when the leases were acquired under the Clinton administration. The NEPA analysis was conducted using the Obama administration 2013 Integrated Activity Plan, which contains over 270 mitigation requirements. And a two-year long EIS process began in 2018 which included over 100 meetings with stakeholders on the North Slope and multiple public comment periods, resulting in a robust 2,600 page final EIS. The process across multiple administrations has been more than thorough. It’s time to move this project forward.
“At a time when Russia is providing more barrels of crude oil to the United States per day than Alaska, the Alaska Delegation has continued to stress to this administration the importance of this new development project located within the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska. The Willow project would not only provide a valuable resource, but could also create around 2,000 high paying jobs in Alaska and support $2.3 billion dollars in revenue for the state—a boost to the economy at a time when we need it most. I’m glad the Interior Department has listened to our advice and will now defend the litigation and allow the permit to proceed. I urge Interior to show Alaskans that their words and actions align by taking the Willow project off their “pause and review” list once and for all.”
“On Monday in the Oval Office, I, along with my fellow delegation members, had the opportunity to deliver a message directly to the President, one that we’ve been making for weeks to every member of his administration: ‘Alaska’s Willow project is one of the most environmentally responsible and rigorous energy projects in our country, and the project deserves you and your administration’s support,’” said Senator Sullivan. “Willow will create thousands of direct and indirect jobs in Alaska, and provide opportunities and billions of dollars in revenues for our state and indigenous communities on the North Slope. It will produce American energy with the highest environmental standards at a time when we’re importing far too much from our adversaries, like Russia. I appreciate the President and Secretary Haaland for listening to us and defending this once-in-a-generation energy development that will unlock many more opportunities for our state and our country. I also want to commend the numerous Alaskans and Alaska Native leaders—especially those who live within NPR-A and on the North Slope—for weighing in with the secretary and making the case for Willow. While this is excellent news for our state, I remain deeply concerned about some of the administration’s remaining policies that are still targeting Alaska and our workers, but today’s news on Willow is very positive for Alaska, good-paying jobs for working families, and our economy.”
“This is a good day for Alaska, our energy economy, and American energy independence. I want to thank the Administration, particularly my friend, Secretary Deb Haaland, for reaching what Alaskans know to be the right conclusion: the Willow Project is legally defensible and holds great promise for our state,” said Congressman Young. “Secretary Haaland is my friend, and while we do not always see eye to eye, I appreciate that she always listens to the Alaskan perspective with an open mind. I have advocated for the Willow Project in conversations with her for quite some time, and I am grateful for her attention on this issue. By halting the Willow Project, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a devastating blow to Alaska's energy workers, their families, and all who would benefit from responsible resource development in the NPR-A. The Willow Project is years in the making, and countless individuals at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) worked hard to ensure a thorough environmental review. Late last year, when the Record of Decision was issued, BLM made clear that Willow could proceed all while protecting our environment. It is my great hope that in court, with the Administration on our side, we will ultimately succeed so that this project can deliver the good-paying jobs and affordable energy that Alaskans deserve.”
The project has support from individuals and groups, like the mayors of the North Slope Borough, Utqia?vik, Wainwright, and Atqasuk, the ANCSA Regional Association, the Alaska Native Village Corporation Association, the Alaska Chamber of Commerce, the Alaska Trucking Association, the Associated General Contractors of Alaska, and the Alaska Maritime Agencies.
- On April 26, the municipal mayors of Utqiagvik, Wainwright, and Atqasuk—three communities located within the boundaries of NPR-A—wrote to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland asking her to allow the Willow MDP to move forward.
- On April 21, George Edwardson, president of the Iñupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, wrote to Secretary Haaland in support of the Willow MPD.
- On April 15, North Slope Borough Mayor Harry Brower Jr. and Alaska Natural Resources Commissioner Corri Feige wrote toSecretary Haaland urging her to allow responsible oil and gas development on federal lands in Alaska to proceed.
- On February 13, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals extended a District Court injunction of the Willow MPD, pending appeal.
- On February 1, the U.S. District Court for Alaska issued an injunction on the Willow MPD.
- On October 27, 2020, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued the ROD for the Willow MPD.
- On August 14, 2020, BLM published the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Willow MPD.
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