Gary Wilson's thoughts on Great Lakes issues and occasionally, other things
Biden administration supports Trump decision to allow drilling in Alaska; move is a 180 from his climate policy
The Biden administration in a court filing this week gave its support to a Trump administration decision that allowed oil drilling in Alaska’s North Slope. Environmental groups challenged the Trump decision and Biden’s team filed a brief with the court in support of the decision to drill.
The New York Times reported that Trump’s allowance for drilling was in compliance with the environmental rules in place. For details, here’s the Times report.
What happened, you may rightfully ask. Biden is all in on dealing with climate change, it’s one of his signature policies. And this decision runs counter to everything Biden said on the campaign trail and in his first months in office as he rolled out his climate policy agenda, right?.
So what happened? Is Biden just another politician who will say anything to get elected?
No, he’s better than that but governing is complicated. Policy proclamations run on a continuum, they’re not absolute. Left to his own devices, more oil drilling in Alaska would be an easy proposal for Biden to ding. But the decision exists in a broader context as the Times reported.
The project has the support of the state of Alaska, unions, the state’s two senators including Lisa Murkowski who is seen as a swing vote in the senate and some of the state’s Tribes.
You get the picture, there’s a lot more at stake for Biden than just drilling in Alaska. With an evenly divided senate, Biden needs to court every vote and Murkowski is one he may need to swing his way if his climate and infrastructure agendas are to become reality.
Great Lakes parallel?
Biden may be in a similar box when it comes to the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline in Michigan’s Straits of Mackinac. Environmental groups have been pushing hard to have Line 5 shutdown since 2013.
Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder agreed, but not without a replacement. In 2018 just before leaving office Snyder signed a law that provides for Enbridge to construct and pay for a pipeline in a tunnel to replace Line 5.
Snyder’s successor, Gretchen Whitmer inherited the Line 5 issue and in 2020 finally ordered the existing pipeline shutdown. Enbridge defied the order and courts will eventually decide the fate of the aged pipeline unless Enbridge and Michigan can come to an agreement.
Meanwhile, Michigan has given Enbridge permits to construct the pipeline in a tunnel but environmental groups don’t want that to happen. It’s backward looking and again, it runs counter to what Biden has been saying on energy and reliance on fossil fuels.
Seems like a layup that Biden would come out against building another pipeline to transport fossil fuel. But his team, while pitching his clean energy and climate plan at every turn, have been strangely silent on the Michigan tunnel project.
A generic, it’ll be decided by the courts is the standard answer.
What’s up with that?
Again, it’s complicated. Unions, a core Biden constituency, support construction of the tunnel as does Canada. And Biden wants, actually needs to build back relations with Canada after President Trump gave our northern neighbor the cold shoulder for four years.
Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, has policies that align with Biden’s and on the world stage they could have a big impact.
A court will eventually decide the Alaska drilling issue, but Biden giving it a nudge is not a minor thing. Biden sitting out the Michigan pipeline conundrum could sway that one too.
But who knows, I don’t because it involves politics, and it’s complicated.
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Chicago-based environmental journalist