Energy & Environment — Interior moves toward approving Alaska oil project

The Biden administration takes the next step toward approving an Alaska oil project opposed by environmentalists. Meanwhile, California has its own proposal on use of the Colorado River, and the Senate introduces a bipartisan bill to restrict SPR sales to China.

This is Energy & Environment, your source for the latest news focused on energy, the environment and beyond. For The Hill, we’re Rachel Frazin and Zack Budryk.

Thank you for signing up!

Subscribe to more newsletters here

The latest in politics and policy. Direct to your inbox. Sign up for the Energy and Environment newsletter

Alaska drilling project nearing approval

The Biden administration took a step toward approving a controversial project that would lock in oil and gas drilling in Alaska over a 30-year period.

The administration indicated it is likely to approve the Willow Project, a major ConocoPhillips endeavor that would produce up to 629 million total barrels of oil.

What would the impact be? The environmental impacts review released by the Interior Department on Wednesday said the project could result in 278,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide over the project’s 30-year lifespan. That’s the equivalent of driving 59,900 cars for a year.

A prior draft review laid out a range of options for the project, but this step signals the department is proposing to approve the project. Final approval could be as soon as 30 days after this penultimate step.

Under the final environmental review, the Bureau of Land Management selected an alternative that would include three oil well pads where drilling would occur. The department said the option it ultimately selected intends to “reduce the amount of surface infrastructure” for the project and lessen impacts on caribou and other wildlife.

  • In a statement, the Interior Department said publication of the document and selected alternative “is not a decision about whether to approve the Willow Project.” It suggested its final decision could ultimately reject the project or defer some drill sites. 

  • “The Department has substantial concerns about the Willow project and the preferred alternative as presented in the final [supplemental environmental impact statement], including direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions and impacts to wildlife and Alaska Native subsistence,” the department said.

Green groups aren’t happy. Read more on the backlash here.

Read more about the announcement here.

Calif. submits separate Colorado River usage plan

California’s water agencies have issued an alternate proposal for dividing usage of the Colorado River, two days after the other six states in the basin issued a joint proposal of their own.

The proposal, announced late Tuesday night, is based in part on existing agency commitments announced in 2022 that state officials say would preserve 400,000 more acre-feet of water per year.

It is distinct from the submission by the other six states, which would rely on California for the majority of the necessary water reductions in the river’s lower basin. This proposal, the California agencies wrote, directly contradicts the Law of the River that currently governs apportionment.

  • “The alternative provides a realistic and implementable framework to address reduced inflows and declining reservoir elevations by building on voluntary agreements and past collaborative efforts in order to minimize implementation delays,” state Colorado River Commissioner J.B. Hamby said in a statement.

  • “California’s alternative protects critical elevations and uses adaptive management to protect critical reservoir elevations through the interim period.”

How we got here: Earlier this week, the other six states in the river basin — Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — submitted their own proposed alternative, which would update 2007 guidelines for the Glen Canyon Dam at Lake Powell and the Hoover Dam at Lake Mead. Neither the six states’ proposal nor the California submission constitute a binding agreement.

Representatives of the six states have been negotiating for months over usage of the river, which is severely overallocated due to a century-old usage agreement that has not been updated as water demand evolved. The states had agreed to a rough Jan. 31 deadline, with the Federal Bureau of Reclamation saying it could step in to unilaterally impose cuts if a new usage agreement could not be reached in the meantime.

Read more about the proposal here.

Bipartisan push to restrict Chinese oil reserve sales

A bipartisan group of senators are introducing a bill aimed at limiting the sales of oil from the country’s emergency supply to entities controlled by China.

The bill was put forward Wednesday and spearheaded by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

Under the legislation, companies under the ownership or control of the Chinese government or its Communist Party will not be able to purchase oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, unless they sell the fuel outside of China.

The proposal was also backed by a wide bipartisan group of senators, including  Sens. Angus King (I-Maine), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) and Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.).

“This bill would ensure that we are not risking our energy security by selling our petroleum reserves to China, and the bipartisan support this legislation has received shows just how important it is for America to be energy secure and independent,” Manchin said in a statement.

Read more about the bill here.


Republicans on Wednesday announced who will chair key subcommittees on the House Natural Resources Committee:

  • Pete Stauber (Minn.) will chair the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources 

  • Cliff Bentz (Ore.) will chair the Subcommittee on Water, Wildlife and Fisheries 

  • Tom Tiffany (Wis.) will chair the Subcommittee on Federal Lands 

  • Harriet Hageman (Wyo.) will chair the Subcommittee on Indian & Insular Affairs 

  • Paul Gosar (Ariz.) will chair the Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations

Meanwhile, on the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, Pat Fallon (R-Texas) will chair the Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Energy Policy, and Regulatory Affairs.

Separately, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee announced subcommittee chairs:

  • Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) will chair the Subcommittee on Chemical Safety, Waste Management, Environmental Justice, and Regulatory Oversight 

  • Ed Markey (D-Mass.) will chair the Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate, and Nuclear Safety 

  • Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) will chair the Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure 

  • Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) will chair the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife


  • New York investors snapping up Colorado River water rights, betting big on an increasingly scarce resource (CBS News)

  • Lobster and crab fishing banned in Massachusetts Bay for 3 months to protect endangered whales (WBUR)

  • Deforestation piles pressure on South America’s elusive Chacoan peccary (The Guardian)

  • EPA cites Flint scrapyard for violation of Clean Air Act (MLive)

  • White House blasts Exxon over historical $56 bln annual profit (Reuters)


🐻 Lighter click: Paws-itively photogenic

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s Energy & Environment page for the latest news and coverage. We’ll see you tomorrow.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to The Hill.