Biden limits Alaska oil exploitation to calm young criticism

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We already know that power has many twists and turns. President Joe Biden is at a crossroads.

Looking ahead to the 2024 elections, his government is selling economic success (GDP rises, the labor market maintains its strength, there is investment, the real estate sector recovers,...), but it is at the risk of bad press from the inflation, where the increase in gasoline prices emerges again as a threat to the pockets of ordinary citizens.

However, to the relief of young people and environmental activists, whom he appealed to in his campaign, the Biden administration, in its most aggressive move to protect federal territory from oil and gas exploration, announced that it will prohibit drilling in 53,000 square kilometers in the pristine Alaskan wilderness.

His decision, which angered Republicans and the fossil energy industry after the endorsement it received during Donald Trump's time in the White House, means safeguarding the so-called National Petroleum Reserve in that remote territory. This will also mean canceling drilling leases in the Arctic national wildlife refuge that the previous executive promoted.

The new regulation will guarantee maximum protection for practically half of that reserve.

On the other hand, this measure will not stop the Willow project of massive oil drilling in that same territory, valued at 8 billion dollars, by the company ConocoPhillips Alaska. The forecast is that 180,000 barrels a day will be produced there.

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Biden approved that plan last March, in what many of his voters, attracted by his environmental promises, described as a “carbon bomb.” There were accusations of treason. In internal circles it was assured that Biden was caught by surprise by this attack of anger from a group that he considered one of his political supports.

Some critics, despite remaining angry, applauded the announcement of the new regulation to confront the climate emergency, although they specified that more must be done. Litigation over approval of the Willow project remains pending. Environmental group leaders indicated that these are the kinds of things that young people and members of the climate movement want to see from their president.

“Alaska is home to many natural wonders and areas of cultural significance. As the climate crisis warms the Arctic more than twice as fast as the rest of the world, we have a responsibility to protect this precious region for all ages,” Biden said in a statement.

The decision carries political risks. Oil prices are rising and Republicans accuse the president of damaging America's energy independence, even though oil production is on track to break records this year.

There are also Native American groups that regretted the measure. Their communities depend on drilling work, as well as income for schools and other public services.

The oil industry spared no protests. He considered it a bad precedent for future leases of federal lands.

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