How Willow Went Down

A lesson in the constraints on climate justice in the Biden administration

Hill Heat celebrated Pi Day yesterday by making a pear tarte tatin instead of a newsletter. Now that the Ides are upon us, however, let us return to ominous portents and traitorous senators.


On February 9th, 2020, two days before his dreadful showing in the New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary, Joe Biden was trailing badly behind progressive climate hawk Bernie Sanders. When he was asked at a town hall in Hudson about his position on drilling in Alaska’s Arctic Refuge, Biden said he opposed it, and then went farther:

“No more drilling on federal lands. Period. Period. Period. Period. The Arctic Circle, it’s a disaster to do that. A big disaster.”

Three years later, President Biden personally greenlit the ConocoPhillipsWillow project, 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. I guess he meant “no more drilling on federal lands . . . . until I’m safely in office.”

CNN’s Ella Nilson reports that Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland refused to sign off on the carbon bomb, so Interior deputy secretary Tommy Beaudreau penned the approval. I hope it’s of interest to look more closely at how we got here.

This decision was a long time coming: in 2021, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) made administration support for Willow a precondition of her vote for Haaland. Murkowski then nixed Biden’s nominee as the number-two Interior official, climate hawk Liz Klein, in favor of Beaudreau, a fossil-fuel industry lawyer from Alaska.1

As Chris D’Angelo summarized Beaudreau’s client list when he was nominated:

His clients in recent years have included coal mining company Arch Resources Inc., multinational mining and petroleum firm BHP, Dominion Energy Inc., fossil fuel giant Total SE, as well as offshore drillers and pipeline developers. He also provided legal services to a number of renewable energy companies, including Vineyard Wind and Avangrid Renewables, and to two development projects connected to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.2

Following the decision, Haaland released a video tweet saying “President Biden and I believe the climate crisis is the most urgent issue of our lifetime.” After explaining new limits on Arctic drilling, she called the Willow project a “difficult and complex issue that was inherited” from previous administrations, who had granted ConocoPhillips the oil leases.

For more: Hannah Story Brown discusses some of the connections between the disastrous Willow decision and the bailout of the Silicon Valley Bank, and economists Mark Paul and Lina Moe have released a very well-timed report on the need for supply-side planning to restrict the production of fossil fuels.

This morning, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) chaired an Environment hearing to assess the implementation of the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act, passed as part of the bipartisan infrastructure bill in 2021, which authorized billions for lead-pipe replacement and other water system improvements. The EPA’s top water official, Radhika Fox, testified with water officials from Philadelphia, Green Bay, and West Virginia.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) chaired a Budget hearing on Biden’s proposed 2024 budget with OMB Director Shalanda Young. “It is decidedly not a budget for creepy billionaires and fossil fuel overlords,” praised Whitehouse, “it is a budget for families.”

And Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) chaired the Senate Appropriations Legislative Branch subcommittee hearing on the budget requests for the Congressional Budget Office, the Government Accountability Office, and the Government Publishing Office. Witnesses include Republican economist Philip Swagel, who continues to run the influential CBO, which estimates the costs of climate change to the U.S. economy and the effects of climate legislation on the federal budget; and Gene Dodaro, the career head of GAO, which is tasked with limiting the government’s fiscal exposure from climate change.

MOVEMENT MOVES AND MOAR JERBS: The Society of Environmental Journalists and Uproot Project have announced 30 diversity fellows receiving a stipend to travel to the annual conference. It’s also a nice spotlight on some of the many rising stars and stalwarts in climate journalism, throughout print, radio, digital, and television. They include NPR’s Ximena Bustillo, the Times-Picayune’s Roshaun Higgins, Axios’s Ayurella Horn-Muller, the Post and Courier’s Shamira McCray, and freelance journalist Miacel Spotted Elk, as well as international journalists such as Shamsuddin Illius in Bangladesh, Egyptian journalist Hadeer Elhadary, Mongabay editor Karla Mendes in Brazil, and many others. It’s very worth checking out the full list and examples of their work.

Atmos climate director Yessenia Funes, who led the journal’s strong environmental-justice coverage, is stepping down to focus on writing. The journal is seeking a new climate editor ($74K-$90.6K, remote).

Evergreen Action chief of staff Lena Moffitt has become the organization’s executive director, succeeding Evergreen co-founder Jamal Raad. Saul Levin is moving from being Rep. Cori Bush’s (D-Mo.) climate advisor to legislative and policy director for the Green New Deal Network. Here are a few job openings that may offer you the opportunity to collaborate with Lena and Saul…

Evergreen Action is hiring a deputy state policy director ($110K-$115K, remote), and the Green New Deal Network is looking for a press secretary ($78K-$90K, remote).

The Center for American Progress is seeking either an associate director or director of domestic climate and energy policy, reporting to senior director Shannon Baker-Branstetter. The title and salary will depend on the experience of the chosen candidate ($77K+ or $92K+, DC).

The venerable Yale Program on Climate Change Communication led by Dr. Anthony Leiserowitz is hiring a geospatial data scientist ($90K-$100K), partnerships program manager ($66K-$111K), message experiments research specialist ($70K-$80K, advanced degree required), and data analyst ($60K-$70K), all based in New Haven.

The Climate Justice team at Global Programs, Open Society Foundations seeks a program manager to help develop and expand the program’s work on issues related human rights, governance and participation as implicated in the global response to climate change ($103K-$190K, Berlin, London, Nairobi, New York, or Washington, D.C.).

Mathematica is hiring a climate change director ($130K-$180K, multiple locations or remote).

Hearings on the Hill:

Climate Action Today:

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1 Senators banding together to stick the knife into Biden’s female climate-hawk regulatory nominees is something of a theme. Here’s a preview of tomorrow’s Hill Heat:

2 Not coincidentally, Beaudreau was the highest-ranking Interior official at last week’s Big Oil confab, CERAWeek. He was on a panel there with Rio Tinto’s top lobbyist on using renewable energy as a justification for new mining. It’s a safe bet that the next Beaudreau-rubberstamped project will be Rio Tinto’s Resolution Copper Mine planned for sacred native lands in Oak Flat, Arizona.

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