Cantwell, Colleagues Call on President Biden to Reject Massive New Arctic Drilling Project on Alaska Public Lands

ConocoPhillips’ Willow Proposal could cause nearly $20 billion in climate-related damage

WASHINGTON, D.C – Today, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Committee of Energy and Natural Resources, joined Congressional colleagues in sending a letter to President Joe Biden calling on his administration to reject ConocoPhillips’ Willow Master Development Plan (MDP), a massive 30-year oil and gas development proposal on public land in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. The Administration is expected to make a decision by March 6, 2023. 

“Environmental reviews need to be based on science, not political tradeoffs, otherwise they won’t withstand judicial scrutiny,” said Sen. Cantwell. “Industrialization of fragile Arctic ecosystems, like climate change, is irreversible and irresponsible to future generations. Oil companies already have record profits and access to drilling rights on millions of acres of public lands which they should be using to meet our current fossil fuel needs.”

Sen. Cantwell and her colleagues, including House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), stressed in their letter that, rather than approving the Willow MDP, the administration should choose the no-action alternative and initiate a rulemaking proceeding that fully and permanently protects the Nuiqsut region’s designated special areas and meets the ecological and subsistence needs of the people of Nuiqsut:

“If allowed to proceed, the Willow MDP would pose a significant threat to U.S. progress on climate issues,” wrote the lawmakers in their letter to President Biden. “Climate damage is unlikely to stop with the first phase of the Willow project; your administration needs to draw the line now.”

“You can stop this ill-conceived and misguided project,” they continued. “We therefore ask your administration to reject the Willow MDP, choose the no-action alternative, and fundamentally reconsider this unsustainable approach to managing the Western Arctic.”

The full letter can be viewed HERE.

Last year, congressional Democrats and President Biden passed the Inflation Reduction Act into law, delivering the federal government’s largest-ever investment in climate and clean energy to the American people. In their letter, the legislators raised concerns that approving any plan to advance the Willow project would be inconsistent with the historic achievements on climate and environmental justice made to date.

The Willow MDP could alone cause nearly $20 billion in climate-related damages while also threatening the well-being of nearby Nuiqsut, Alaska. Nuiqsut’s federally recognized and elected tribal government, in partnership with the city’s Mayor Rosemary Ahtuangaruak and city council, made their concerns on the Willow project clear to President Biden.

Senator Cantwell has been the leading congressional champion of protecting fragile Arctic ecosystems, including preservation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. She repeatedly fought back against the Trump administration’s efforts to roll-back protections for the pristine wilderness and cosponsored multiple bills to designate its coastal plain as a wilderness area. In December of 2005, Cantwell led a historic filibuster that reversed a backdoor maneuver in the Senate that would have allowed drilling in the Refuge.