White House: Biden’s hands were tied on Willow

By Robin Bravender | 03/16/2023 04:27 PM EDT

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks at a press briefing

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks at a news briefing at the White House on Thursday. Andrew Harnik/AP Photo

The White House on Thursday defended the administration’s decision to approve a massive oil and gas drilling project in Alaska after widespread criticisms that the move undercuts President Joe Biden’s promises on climate change and the environment.

The Interior Department announced earlier this week that it had approved a scaled-back version of ConocoPhillips’ plans to drill in the northeast portion of the National Petroleum Reserve on Alaska’s North Slope. The announcement came after decades of industry effort to advance the project since the oil and gas giant first acquired leases during the Clinton administration.

Critics of the drilling plan, known as the Willow Project, assailed it as a “carbon bomb” after Biden pledged on the campaign trail that there would be no new drilling on federal lands. Environmentalists are suing the administration over the plan.


“The president kept his word when he can where he can by law,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Thursday.

“As the Interior Department said, some of the company’s leases are decades old, granted by prior administrations,” she added. “The company has a legal right to those leases. The department’s options are limited when there are legal contracts in place.”

Biden, she said, “is delivering the most aggressive climate agenda in the U.S. history, and that is going to be his continued commitment to the American people.”

She declined to comment on the pending litigation.