President Joe Biden will have to make concessions on fossil fuels. His rhetoric so far has stood out for having a strongly environmentalist tone and his staunch opposition to this type of fuel has been shown with concrete facts such as blocking the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and the prohibition of new fracking projects on federal lands.
However, behind its environmentalist rhetoric, the White House is aware that not every environmentalist fight makes political sense and even environmentalism taken to the extreme could be counterproductive for the implementation of the public policy proposed by the Democratic administration.
On Wednesday, May 23, the government defended before a federal court the Willow project, a large oil drilling operation located in northern Alaska and initially approved by former President Donald Trump, against many environmentalist protests.
The Willow project has not been the only legacy of the former Republican president that Biden has been willing to defend. Weeks earlier the White House also defended the Trump administration’s decision to grant concessions for oil and gas projects in Wyoming.
That same May Biden refused to act when he had the opportunity to stop a 2,700-mile pipeline project along the Dakotas that lacks a federal permit to operate.
A matter of political convenience
According to William Galston of the Brookings Institution, Biden “can’t afford to take a pure position on climate” because he lacks a clear majority in Congress, so making these concessions on some drilling, fracking and transportation projects could mean support from some key congress members in the Republican Party and even his own party.”
Although Biden’s rhetoric in favor of accelerating the transition has won him followers in the more progressive wings of the Democratic Party, the perception of his opposition to fossil fuels could also cost him the support of several of his party’s congressmen in oil states.
Lacking an outright majority to pass his cherished American jobs plan, Biden will need to secure the votes of Democrats from oil and gas states along with the votes of a few Republican congressmen.
By supporting the continuation of the Willow project, Biden would seek the support of Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), for whom the oil drilling and extraction project is crucial to the development of her state.
Biden has presented himself as a defender of the working class and shutting down projects like Willow, which guarantee more than 2,000 blue-collar jobs, would run counter to that electoral rhetoric with which he sought to capture votes from Trump’s base during the election.
Recently, the International Energy Agency issued a report calling on governments to stop approving new projects to extract fossil fuels. Although Biden agrees with that view, thin margins in Congress are forcing him to take a more conciliatory stance on oil and gas projects than his constituents expected.