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Any day now, the Biden administration is expected to decide whether to approve a controversial oil drilling plan that has become a motivating issue for Gen Zs concerned about climate change. They’ve taken their message to platforms like TikTok, where videos outlining the issue have gotten a lot of views. They also sent millions of letters to the White House.
Proponents of the so-called Willow project say they will drill in Arctic Alaska Lower oil prices and boost national security. But its opponents say it comes with unacceptable environmental consequences and is discouraged Transition to cleaner fuels.
It leaves the Biden administration caught in the crosshairs of its own conflicting priorities — and Gen Xers are ready to read the decision as a way to clarify where the country’s political power lies.
Here’s an overview of where things stand.
First things first: What is the Willow Project?
Willow Master Development Plan A A $6 billion proposal from ConocoPhillips To drill for oil within the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska.
The oil company plans It can generate revenue of up to 17 billion dollars It creates more than 2,800 jobs for federal, state and local governments.
Willow too 600 million barrels of oil availableA module Almost 1.5 times Current supply In US Strategic Petroleum Reserves. Biden administration Says increasing oil production will help Lower consumer energy prices – economists warn, report says It says it will take years To actually see the price drop.
Willow’s proposed development would be exposed on the North Slope of the Petroleum Reserve, a 23 million-acre region that represents the largest unobstructed public land in the United States.
Bureau of Land Management explains The proposed site is “vital” to local wildlife, supports “thousands of migratory birds” and is a “primary calving area” for local caribou. Beyond the region, the BLM says the project would release 9.2 million metric tons of annual carbon pollution, which contributes to human-caused climate change. That’s equivalent to the emissions of about 2 million gas-powered cars.
The decision comes at a major crossroads for the Biden administration
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The Trump administration initially approved the Willow project in late 2020, but a federal judge vacated the development permits, saying initial federal reviews failed to include measures to mitigate impacts on polar bears.
Feb. On 1, B.L.M A new environmental impact analysis of the project, proposing fewer drilling sites and less surface infrastructure such as roads and pipelines. ConocoPhillips called it “a practical way.”
Ultimately, Home Secretary Deb Holland formally gets the final say. He could approve the original ConocoPhillips plan, greenlight the BLM’s revised plan, halt the plan altogether, or take any action in between.
Home Department Early said the revised plan still leaves significant concerns About willow’s impact on greenhouse gas emissions.
But terminating Willow would put the Biden administration in a tricky political position. The president made a campaign promise not to start new drilling on federal lands — but, in office, made lowering energy prices a priority amid uncertainty in the global oil market.
But more than four days after the end of a formal 30-day review period on the BLM plan, many observers expected a decision.
On Friday morning, the Interior Ministry told NPR it had no update on the timing of a decision. During a press conference Friday, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre confirmed that the president met with Alaska’s congressional delegation last week about the plan, but that the decision would ultimately come from the Interior Department.
Who supports the project?
As the wait drags on, the debate rages on.
Wednesday, of Alaska Congressional representatives urged quick approval for the BLM project, which, above all, needed economic relief.
“We all recognize the need for clean energy, but there is a huge gap between our ability to generate it and our daily needs,” the two Republican senators and one Democratic representative wrote. In the comments section for CNN.
“Even people living subsistence lifestyles in Alaska — living primarily off the land and water — rely on boats, snowmachines and ATVs, and everyone needs fuel. In rural areas of our state, gasoline prices have climbed to $18 a gallon. .”
Alaskan Native leaders are divided on whether the project will have a positive impact on the community. Leaders for Voices of the Arctic, a coalition of Inupiat North Slope leaders, Says Yes: An estimated $1 billion in taxes Funds only critical education, police and fire improvements.
But the chiefs of the town of Nuixut and the native village of Nuixut, the residential areas closest to the proposed development site, said in their stern letter Their input was not sought.
“Despite endorsing traditional ecological knowledge, the BLM does not consider relevant the extensive knowledge and expertise we have acquired over thousands of years, living in a way so deeply connected to our environment,” they wrote directly to Holland.
Who is behind the #StopWillow campaign?
Opposition to the project It is spreading fast on social media. TikTokkers say the decentralized nature of the issue is well-suited to the platform: It’s popular because no single unified message or group dominates the conversation.
“It’s an economic issue, an environmental issue and a social issue,” explained Alex Harris, a 25-year-old environmentalist whose videos on the Willow project have been viewed millions of times.
“In the past, we’ve seen groups take a stand on something and say that’s why everyone should care. But in this case, we really said, ‘Here are the reasons why you should. Care, pick something you’re passionate about and do it. Talk about it in your own way,” Haras said.
The formula worked. Hashtags like #willowproject, #stopwillow and #stopthewillowproject have appeared in TikTok’s daily top 10 lists, beating global trends like heated celebrity feuds and #springbreak. Posts tagged #willowproject It attracted 88 million US views Just last month.
As of Friday, a change.org petition called for the project to end Amassed over 3.1 million signaturesand a letter writing form Hosted by the advocacy group Protect the Arctic It tracked 1.1 million private letters to the White House.
What does the result say about Biden’s political priorities?
Elise Joshi, a 20-year-old climate activist who has been posting environmental content for the past two years, says she hasn’t seen so much interest in a climate issue “in a long time, maybe ever.”
Joshi said the 30-day review window for the plan provided a firm timeline for a ubiquitous, slow-moving emergency (climate change). But, Joshi said, there is a sense that the Biden administration may be betraying the people who put the president in power.
“I believe the administration sees the same people we worked with on climate legislation mobilizing against them [Project Willow],” he said, adding that he was among the activists invited to the White House to sign the anti-inflation bill.
“This is not the Trump administration. This is someone we voted for,” he added.
Neither Joshi nor Haras saw the end of the Willow project as the end of Gen Z’s interest in ending oil drilling. But if successful, #StopWillow could serve as a key argument for how digital attention is reshaping the landscape of political power.
“If that doesn’t represent an issue that resonates with the general American public, I don’t know what does,” Haras said.