Biden’s Fossil Fuel Moves Clash With Pledges on Climate Change
pledge to aggressively cut the that is driving climate change, his administration has quietly taken actions this month that will guarantee the drilling and burning of oil and gas for decades to come. The clash between Mr. Bidens pledges and some of his recent decisions illustrates the political, technical and legal difficulties of disentangling the country from the oil, gas and coal that have underpinned its economy for more than a century. On Wednesday, the the Willow project, a huge oil drilling operation proposed on Alaskas North Slope that was approved by the Trump administration and is being fought by environmentalists. Weeks earlier, it backed former President Donald J. Trumps decision to grant oil and gas leases on federal land in Wyoming. Also this month, it declined to act when it had an opportunity to stop crude oil from continuing to flow through the bitterly contested, 2,700-mile Dakota Access pipeline, which lacks a federal permit. The three decisions suggest the jagged road that Mr. Biden is following as he tries to balance his against practical and political pressures. Mr. Biden cant afford to take a pure position on the climate because he lacks strong majorities in Congress, said William A. Galston, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. That is the backdrop against which this president and the administration will be making trade-offs on every single issue. After successfully campaigning on a pledge to address global warming, Mr. Biden hit the pause button on any new gas or oil leases on federal lands and waters, returned the United States to the Paris Agreement on climate change and squashed the controversial proposal to build the Keystone XL pipeline all on his first day in office. But he is also trying to provide a safety net for people employed in the oil, gas and coal sectors, including union workers, and ease the transition into wind, solar and other renewables. As important, Mr. Biden is trying to avoid alienating a handful of moderate Republicans and Democrats from oil, gas and coal states who will decide the fate of his legislative agenda in Congress. Among them is Lisa Murkowski, the Republican senator from Alaska for whom the Willow project is a top priority and who grilled Deb Haaland about it during Ms. Haalands confirmation hearing for interior secretary in February. Ms. Haaland, , personally called Ms. Murkowski and other members of Alaskas all-Republican delegation this week to tell them the Biden administration would support the project in federal court in Anchorage, House and Senate aides confirmed. The decision on the Willow project was made as the Biden administration is trying to win Republican support for its infrastructure package and other policies, said Gerald Torres, a professor of law and environmental justice at Yale University. He is going to need Murkowskis vote for some things, he said. These are political calculations. Senator Dan Sullivan, Republican of Alaska, said in an interview that he, Ms. Murkowski and Representative Don Young of Alaska had all met with Ms. Haaland ad nauseam about Alaska issues, including the Willow project. Mr. Sullivan said he had repeatedly made the case that Willows projected 2,000 jobs and $1.2 billion in revenues should be seen as part of the Biden administrations focus on environmental equity, as it would directly benefit local and Alaska Native communities in the North Slope. If you kill these jobs you are turning environmental justice on its head, Mr. Sullivan said. The multibillion-dollar plan from ConocoPhillips to drill in part of the National Petroleum Reserve would produce more than 100,000 barrels of oil a day until 2050. It is being challenged by environmental groups who said the Trump administration failed to consider the impact that drilling would have on fragile wildlife and that burning the oil would have on global warming. In a paradox worthy of Kafka, ConocoPhillips plans to install chillers into the permafrost which is thawing fast because of climate change to keep it solid enough to drill for oil, the burning of which will continue to worsen ice melt. Over the past 60 years, . Arctic ecosystems are in disarray, sea ice is disappearing, sea levels are rising and the ground is thawing. Earlier this month, lawyers for the Biden administration also shutting down the Dakota Access pipeline, which is carrying about 550,000 barrels of oil daily from North Dakota to Illinois. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe and other activists have fought it for more than five years, contending the pipeline threatens water supplies and sacred sites. The Biden administration could have decided to halt the pipeline while the Army Corps of Engineers conducts a new court-ordered environmental review, but it opted not to intervene. Judge James Boasberg of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia criticized the administration for its inaction. A few days later, the Biden administration defended 440 oil and gas leases issued by the Trump administration on federal land in Wyoming that is also the critical habitat of the sage grouse, mule deer and pronghorn. Environmentalists successfully sued the government to stop the leases, arguing that they violated a 2015 agreement that protected that land. But in federal appeals court, the Biden administration defended the decision to allow oil and gas drilling. Environmental activists, who campaigned to elect Mr. Biden, said this week that they were baffled and disappointed by the decisions but avoided criticizing the president. Still, some said they were running out of patience with the distance between Mr. Bidens climate policies and his actions at a time when scientists say countries need to quickly and sharply cut or risk irreversible damage to the planet. These are bad decisions, said Drew Caputo, a lawyer for the environmental group Earthjustice, which has fought the Trump administration policies that Mr. Biden is now defending. These actions are carbon bombs. The physics of climate change is unforgiving, Mr. Caputo said. To keep global temperatures from rising to dangerously high levels, fossil fuel extraction must stop, he said. I get that theyre being pressured politically. I get that there are thin margins, he said. But the climate crisis doesnt care about any of that stuff. This month the worlds leading energy agency fossil fuel projects now if they want to keep the increase in average global temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius, compared with preindustrial levels. Thats the threshold beyond which scientists say the Earth will experience irreversible damage. Press officers at the White House, the Interior Department and the Justice Department all declined to comment on how the administrations recent decisions align with its climate pledges. The Interior Department also said it would have no comment on why Ms. Haaland reversed course on the Willow project after characterizing it as egregious in a letter she signed while serving in Congress. In its court filing regarding Willow, the government said the Trump administration adequately considered its impacts on fish, caribou and polar bear habitat. It also upheld the method used by the prior administration to account for the greenhouse gas emissions generated by the project. Conoco does have valid lease rights, the filing states, noting that under law the company is entitled to develop its leases subject to reasonable regulation. Amy M. Jaffe, director of the Climate Policy Lab at Tufts Universitys Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, said the fact that a handful of states wont immediately shut their oil production doesnt necessarily upend Mr. Bidens goal of reducing emissions and transitioning to clean energy. To use an oil analogy, were not changing a speedboat. Were shifting course of a giant supertanker. Its not going to happen overnight, Ms. Jaffe said, adding, Its a time-consuming and thoughtful process to move an entire country the size of the United States, with the complexity of the economy we have, to a major energy transition. An earlier version of this article may have misrepresented the thinking of Amy M. Jaffe on continued fossil fuel production. In an interview, Ms. Jaffe said she did not think ongoing production in a few states would upend President Bidens climate goals. She did not say, as initially reported in the article, that she was not concerned about the ongoing production in principle. Also, part of a quote from Ms. Jaffe was rendered incorrectly. She said were not changing a speed boat, not steamboat. How we handle corrections reports on federal climate and environmental policy from Washington. She has broken multiple stories about the Trump administrations efforts to repeal climate change regulations and limit the use of science in policymaking.