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For many young voters, Biden’s support for Alaska drilling casts long shadow

WASHINGTON — Over the past three weeks, President Joe Biden’s administration has proposed regulations to speed up the transition to electric vehicles, pledged $1 billion to help poor countries fight climate change and prepared for what could become the world’s largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. a restrictive measure.

Yet many young voters appalled by climate change remain angry at Mr. Biden’s decision last month to approve Willow, an $8 billion oil-drilling project on pristine federal lands in Alaska. As the president prepares to announce his re-election bid, it remains to be seen whether voters who helped him win in 2020 because of his commitment to climate action will vote again.

Alex Haraus, 25, said he and other young workers had joined forces after Mr. Biden as a candidate promised he would end new oil drilling on public land “during, during, during” Everyone felt betrayed by Willow’s decision.

Mr Haraus, whose TikTok video opposing Project Willow has been viewed hundreds of millions of times, described his reaction as “mad, frustrated and disappointed”.

About a dozen young climate activists interviewed said they were not reassured by other actions by the Biden administration, even if they significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are dangerous to the planet, Harrouth said. What they want, he said, is for the president to take control of an oil and gas company that made record profits last year.

“I don’t think these things encourage people to forgive the Biden administration for a program like Willow,” said Harrouth, who lives outside Chicago. “Young voters think our future is being thrown out the window. We need Biden to take over the industry, or we have little hope.”

Alec Tyson, associate director of research at the Pew Research Center, said the overwhelming majority of young voters — about 62 percent — support a complete phase-out of fossil fuels. Mr. Tyson said there was broad bipartisan support among registered voters for transitioning to a future in which the United States no longer puts carbon into the atmosphere. But most people are unwilling to give up fossil fuels entirely, he said.

From the beginning of his tenure, Mr. Biden has emphasized climate action as a top priority. Shortly after taking office in the White House, he re-entered the United States in the Paris agreement and set an ambitious goal to reduce U.S. emissions by about 50% below 2005 levels by the end of this decade.

He signed the Lower Inflation Act, which provided $370 billion in incentives to expand wind, solar and other clean energy, as well as electric vehicles. He proposed rules to ensure that two-thirds of new cars and a quarter of new heavy-duty trucks sold in the US by 2032 would be all-electric. He is expected within weeks to demand deep cuts in emissions from coal and natural gas power plants, which account for 25 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Lawmakers and activists, however, said they were concerned that the regulation would go unnoticed by voters and that Project Willow would cast a long shadow.

“He took one step forward on the IRA and two steps back on Project Willow,” said Rep. Jamal Bowman, D-N.Y., who joined more than 30 other progressive lawmakers in urging Mr. Biden to cancel the drilling permit.

Young voters are also angry at Mr. Biden’s language in the climate law that would allow easier drilling for oil offshore and this month’s approval to expand liquefied natural gas exports from Alaska. On Monday, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm praised the Valley Pipeline, a partially constructed pipeline that transports natural gas from West Virginia to Virginia, but faced fierce opposition from environmentalists and was repeatedly stopped by courts .

In a letter to FERC, Ms Granholm did not endorse the pipeline but said it would “strengthen the nation’s energy and national security critical infrastructure”. The pipeline is a top priority for Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a coal- and natural-gas-producing state.

“The Biden administration is trying to reassure swing state Democrats like Sen. Manchin that natural gas will still play an important role in the clean energy transition despite new power plant rules due later this week,” said the former Clinton administration. Paul Bledsoe is a climate officer now at the Progressive Policy Institute. “The timing was no accident.”

But Mr. Bowman said Mr. Biden had sent a mixed message to young voters, which they rejected.

“Young people know more about climate change than ever before,” he said. “Now they feel like they’ve been stabbed in the back.” If Mr. Biden doesn’t change course, “young people will be at home in 2024, and that’s the consequence,” Mr. Bowman said.

Nationally, 61% of 18- to 29-year-olds voted for Mr Biden in 2020, compared with 36% for Donald Trump, according to an analysis by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE). J. Trump, Nonpartisan Center for the Study of Youth Engagement, Tufts University. That’s higher than the level of youth support Hillary Clinton received from younger voters in 2016.

A March poll by the free research group Data for Progress showed Mr Biden’s support for the climate agenda among voters aged 18 to 29 fell by 13 percentage points after Willow’s decision.

But administration officials said they saw no evidence the president was losing out among climate voters or even younger voters. They point to polls conducted by YouGov and Morning Consult after Willow’s decision that showed about half of Americans supported it. About 30% of young voters haven’t even heard of Project Willow, Morning Consult found.

“With the support of labor groups, environmental justice and climate leaders, youth advocates and more, President Biden has been pursuing the most ambitious climate agenda ever created,” White House spokesman Abdullah Hassan said in a statement. “

Countries must halt new oil and gas drilling to prevent average global temperatures from rising by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the International Energy Agency has warned. Add to this the impact of catastrophic heat waves, floods, droughts, crop failures and species extinctions will become even more difficult for humans to manage. The Earth has already warmed by more than 1.1 degrees.

Meanwhile, the agency predicts that global oil demand will continue to rise until it peaks and levels off around 2035.

John Holdren, who served as chief science adviser to President Barack Obama, opposed the Willow project. But he argues that reducing demand for oil and gas — as the Biden administration is trying to do by expanding clean energy and encouraging electric vehicles — is more effective than stopping drilling. If everyone drives an electric car, there will be less demand for gasoline, in theory.

“The enemy is us,” he said. “Fossil fuel companies are producing what society has been eagerly devouring. We must drastically reduce demand.”

Such thinking is part of White House decisions involving the Willow project, several people familiar with the discussions said. Most government officials feel strongly that the impact of aggressive regulation and investment in clean energy will outweigh any climate harm caused by willow.

The oil burned from Willow is expected to release nearly 254 million metric tons of carbon emissions over 30 years. The Biden administration estimates that the climate law and the 2021 Infrastructure Act will lead to a reduction in carbon emissions of more than 1 billion metric tons over the next 10 years.

There were other considerations, including suggestions by government lawyers that the Biden administration could face billions of dollars in legal judgments if it denies the drilling permit, since applicant ConocoPhillips held a lease in the area for more than a decade.

Finally, political consultants believe that if the White House blocks Willow, Republicans will be able to argue that the Biden administration, which has begged oil companies to boost production to lower gas prices, is hurting U.S. energy supplies. According to people familiar with the decision-making process, Russia went to war with Ukraine.

For years, the Willow project has languished in the public eye, even among environmental activists. Several people involved in the campaign said it surprised government officials earlier this year when a social media campaign against Willow galvanized millions of activists.

Mark Paul, a political economist at Rutgers University, said that while the Biden administration has a strong plan to reduce demand, it needs an accompanying policy of production cuts.

“We already have enough fossil fuels to meet the needs of our transition,” he said. “The government is afraid to use a bullying pulpit against oil and gas. It’s trying to do both.”

Young people want to see Mr. Biden fight, said Michele Weindling, elections director for the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led environmental group.

“This is a cultural moment for our generation,” Ms Wendelin said of Willow.

“This is an important time to say ‘no’ to the oil and gas industry,” she said. “This is President Biden’s moment to show us, which side are you on? He’s on the wrong side. It makes our job much harder to tell Gen Z and younger voters that Biden will deliver on his climate promises .”

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