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Climate-Bomb Arctic Drilling Project Takes Another Blow

The Biden administration is no longer defending a halted project that would have unleashed a global climate bomb by drilling for fossil fuels in the Western Arctic.

Siding with Earthjustice and our clients, a federal court in August rejected permits for the Willow Project – a proposal by ConocoPhillips to explore for oil and gas across a vast expanse of tundra – on the grounds that the government did not adequately consider the project’s climate impacts.

Now, following pressure for the Biden administration to end its support of this destructive plan, the administration has declined to appeal.

The Willow Project poses threats to the Western Arctic—and far beyond.

  • The project called for refreezing the Arctic permafrost, which is melting due to climate change, in order to stabilize the ground for fossil fuel drilling.
  • ConocoPhillips would have built 37 miles of new gravel roads, seven bridges, an airstrip, and a gravel mine on public lands.
  • The project’s construction and daily operation would have devastated local wildlife, like polar bears, migratory birds, and caribou. It also would have jeopardized the health and traditional practices of nearby Alaska Natives.
  • Over its lifetime, Willow would have accelerated the climate crisis by releasing enough greenhouse gas emissions to equal that of 66 coal-fired power plants.

Our court victory underscores that the law is a powerful tool for stopping climate-wrecking projects.

  • The court sided with Earthjustice that the agency relied on unsupported greenhouse gas emissions estimates and ignored the project’s global climate impacts.
  • It also found that the government glossed over the project’s full harm to endangered polar bears, in violation of the Endangered Species Act, one of the nation’s bedrock environmental laws.
  • Across the country, Earthjustice is using the power of the law to stop the extraction and burning of harmful fossil fuels.

The Biden administration could not uphold its stated climate goals and keep defending the Willow Project.

  • Trump-era fossil fuel projects like Willow are incompatible with Biden’s campaign promises to address the climate crisis.
  • • The decision not to appeal is a positive step. Now we urge the Biden administration to demonstrate that it is serious about taking on climate change by protecting the Western Arctic from all new oil and gas activity.

What happens next?

  • The Interior Department must now go back and conduct a thorough environmental assessment before making a new decision.
Earthjustice partner Siqiniq Maupin advocates against the Willow Project and other fossil projects outside the White House on Indigenous Peoples' Day 2021

Earthjustice partner Siqiniq Maupin advocates against the Willow Project and other fossil projects outside the White House on Indigenous Peoples' Day 2021. She is an indigenous leader in the fight against the project, and she was in Washington to pressure President Biden to declare a climate emergency and stop all new fossil fuel projects.

Melissa Lyttle for Earthjustice