President Biden said on Friday that he had the “strong inclination” not to approve of the Willow Project — a major oil project in Alaska — but did so out of concern for the legal ramifications.
“My strong inclination was to disapprove of it across the board but the advice I got from counsel was that if that were the case, I may very well lose…that case in court to the oil company and then not be able to do what I really want to do beyond that,” Biden said during a joint press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“I thought it was the better gamble and a hell of a trade off to have the Arctic Ocean, the Bering Sea and so many other places off limits forever now,” he said.
The president likely meant to refer to the Beaufort Sea, where his administration recently announced sweeping protections, rather than the Bering Sea.
The Biden administration last week greenlit the 30-year drilling project that’s expected to produce 576 million barrels of oil over its lifespan, as well as 239 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
The approval frustrated progressives, who say the administration should not be approving additional decades of drilling in Alaska.
The day before the approval was announced, the Interior Department said that it would block 2.8 million acres in the Arctic Ocean’s Beaufort Sea.
It also said it would propose additional protections for 13 million acres of federally owned land in Alaska that have significant natural and historic value.
The department noted that no federal oil and gas lease sales had been held in the Arctic Ocean since 2007.