Sen. Manchin Defends Biden Approval For Alaska Oil Drilling Project Amid Criticism From Democrats

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is backing President Joe Biden’s decision to approve an Alaska oil field development project amid criticism from within Democratic Party ranks.

After lengthy deliberations and arguments for and against the Alaskan oil drilling proposal, known as the Willow Project, Biden decided on Monday to approve a scaled-down version of the Willow Project rather than cancel it outright. The scaled-down project allows for three of the original five proposed drilling pads to proceed, and requires Conoco Phillips to relinquish 68,000 acres of land in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A) for the project.

Manchin, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, applauded the decision by the Biden administration.

“I welcome today’s Record of Decision (ROD) that finally reapproves the ConocoPhillips Willow Project in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve,” Manchin said. “This is a long awaited and critical step towards shoring up American energy security.”

Conoco Phillips drilled the first exploratory wells for the Willow Project in 2016. In 2018, the company formally requested the permits to develop and drill for oil on the land, estimating that the project could produce up to 600 million barrels of oil over a 30-year lifespan.

In August of 2020, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) under President Donald Trump approved the Willow Project. A year later, in August of 2021, the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska blocked the project permit after determining portions of the BLM’s analysis for the project were lacking.

“Responsible development of our abundant natural resources is essential if we are to maintain our status as the superpower of the world, capable of supporting our allies around the globe,” Manchin wrote Monday. “While the torturous, nearly five-year process it took to get to this final approval is proof that permitting reform is needed more than ever, this is a levelheaded decision that will strengthen Alaska and our entire nation. I will continue to work with the Administration to support common sense, energy security projects like these that create good paying jobs and maintain America’s standing on the global stage.”

Democrats Split on Project

Republican politicians and some Democrats, like Manchin, have expressed support for the Biden administration’s approval of the Willow Project.

On Monday, Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) issued a statement saying the Willow Project’s “reapproval” would lead to thousands of new jobs and generate billions of dollars in new revenue. The Republican Alaskan senators were joined by Rep. Mary Peltola (D-Alaska).

A group of Democratic lawmakers—Sens. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) as well as Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.)—had previously sent a letter to Biden calling for him to reject the Willow Project.

Following Biden’s decision on Monday to approve the scaled-down Willow Project, Markey and Grijalva issued a new statement, along with Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), criticizing Biden.

“The Biden administration has committed to fighting climate change and advancing environmental justice—today’s decision to approve the Willow project fails to live up to those promises,” the statement read. “Their decision ignores the voices of the people of Nuiqsut, our frontline communities, and the irrefutable science that says we must stop building projects like this to slow the ever more devastating impacts of climate change.”

Manchin’s Political Alignment

While Manchin approved Biden’s decision on the Willow Project, he has been increasingly at odds with the some elements of the Democratic Party with which Biden has aligned.

In a January interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd, Manchine said that Biden has “done a good job” in several areas but has also “been pulled to the left too far and I think I’ve told him that, I’ve been upfront with that.”

Manchin’s criticism of Biden has often focused on their disagreements over environmental policy. Last week, Manchin condemned a decision by Biden’s Department of Interior (DOI) to delay the release of an offshore oil and gas leasing plan. Manchin said department officials were “putting their radical climate agenda ahead of our nation’s energy security.”

Manchin also recently indicated he would not support Biden’s nomination of Laura Daniel-Davis to serve as the DOI’s assistant secretary for land and minerals management. After documents were accidentally published to the DOI’s website that indicated Davis opposed new natural gas leasing in Alaska, Manchin said, “I will not support anyone who agrees with this type of misguided reasoning.”

In his January NBC interview, Manchin did not rule out a 2024 presidential run, which could potentially pose a challenge to Biden.

In a February interview, Manchin avoided describing himself as a Democrat, raising questions about his continued alignment with the broader party.

From NTD News

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