Even as he approves Willow oil project, Biden puts limits on Arctic Ocean drilling


President Biden will announce sweeping protections for more than 16 million acres of land and water in Alaska on Monday as he prepares to approve a major oil drilling project that has drawn sharp criticism from climate activists and young voters.

The president will announce limits on oil and gas leasing and development throughout the Arctic Ocean, an administration official said on condition of anonymity to preview the announcement. The Interior Department will also announce that it is writing new regulations to protect nearly 13 million acres of national petroleum reserves in Alaska, the nation’s largest public land, including ecologically sensitive areas that provide habitat for thousands of caribou and shorebirds.

The announcement comes as the administration prepares to approve the multibillion-dollar Willow project on Alaska’s North Slope as soon as Monday, two people briefed on the matter said on condition of anonymity to discuss private discussions.

The executive declined to confirm the timing of Willow’s decision. White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre insisted on Friday that no final decision had been made on the plan.

The new protections appear to be an olive branch to environmentalists and young voters who have blasted Willow’s endorsement as incompatible with the president’s ambitious climate goals. If approved, the project near the town of Nuiqsut would allow the construction of hundreds of miles of roads and pipelines, airstrips, a gravel mine and processing facility.

The new protections will extend to Teshekbook Lake and Udukok Uplands, the Colville River, Kazekaluk Lagoon and Bird Bay Special Areas, a White House official said.

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The area around Nuixuit is one of the fastest warming places on Earth. Its average temperature has risen 4 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels — more than three times the global average, according to a Washington Post analysis of temperature data.

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Melting permafrost has created the 22-mile-wide Deshekbook Lake, about 70 miles west of Nuikchut (pronounced nu-ike-chut). The lake is home to thousands of migratory caribou and about 600,000 shorebirds, and more than 78,000 molting geese along with more than 78,000 polar bears and other species.

In recent weeks, Biden administration officials have suggested to environmentalists that approval of the Willow Project could be tied to new conservation measures in Alaska, but their proposals have largely failed to win over leading green groups.

John D. Podesta, the White House’s top climate adviser, on Thursday rejected the idea that environmental groups had received any concessions from the Willow administration.

“I don’t think we’ve ever negotiated with environmental groups,” Podesta told reporters on the sidelines of an event hosted by the American Council on Renewable Energy.

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This is a developing story and will be updated.

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