Skip to content
Alaskan Oil and National Politics
Go to my account

Alaskan Oil and National Politics

Plus: The TMD NCAA tournament pool is back!

Happy Tuesday! It is that time: The annual Morning Dispatch March Madness bracket pool is back and better than ever!

To enter, click here (you will need to have a free ESPN account) and select “Join Group.” The password is “TMD2K23!” and predictions must be completed by Thursday morning before the first games tip off. If you want to be eligible for prizes (including a Dispatch lifetime membership, Yeti tumblers, mugs, hats, T-shirts, and more), fill out this form so we can connect you with your ESPN entry.

We’ll keep you updated on the leaderboard over the next few weeks—let’s get even more entries than we had last year!

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • President Joe Biden delivered a speech Monday morning on the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, pledging SVB depositors’ money—and the United States’ banking system as a whole—remains safe, but calling on Congress to enact laws to prevent similar bank failures in the future.
  • AUKUS leaders—Biden, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese—announced a plan on Monday that would result in Australia acquiring conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarines to combat the growing Chinese threat in the South China Sea. According to the framework the three leaders laid out yesterday in San Diego, Australia will buy three such submarines from the United States in the “early 2030s” pending congressional approval, and build its own—with British and American assistance—in the “early 2040s.” 
  • Iranian Chief Justice Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejehi announced Monday Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had pardoned approximately 82,700 prisoners, including 22,000 people who were arrested in the anti-regime protests that rocked Iran in recent months. Ejehi said people who committed violent crimes were not included in the mass clemency, and his comments indicated just how extensive Iran’s crackdown on protesters last fall truly was.
  • The Department of Homeland Security confirmed Monday the Biden administration will allow approximately 25,000 Ukrainian refugees who entered the United States via the U.S.-Mexico border last spring to remain and work in the U.S. for at least another year. While the nearly 120,000 Ukrainian refugees who arrived in the United States after April 25, 2021 received two-year grants of parole, those who were processed on a more ad-hoc basis between February 24, 2021 and April 25, 2021 received only one-year grants.
  • Sayfullo Saipov, the ISIS-inspired terrorist who killed eight people and injured 12 others in 2017 by driving a rented truck onto a bike path in Manhattan, was sentenced on Monday to life in prison without the possibility of release. Saipov’s was the first federal death-penalty trial to take place during the Biden administration, and jurors were unable to reach the unanimous verdict necessary to sentence him to death. Attorney General Merrick Garland halted federal executions in 2021, and the Saipov case was one of just seven inherited cases in which he allowed prosecutors to continue pursuing the death penalty.
  • Real estate brokerage Redfin reported last week that the U.S. rental market cooled in February, with the median asking rent price falling 0.3 percent month-over-month. Rent growth slowed on an annual basis for the ninth consecutive month, with median asking rent prices just 1.7 percent higher in February 2023 than February 2022. Austin, New Orleans, and Phoenix saw some of the biggest price declines, while Charlotte, Columbus, Milwaukee, and Nashville experienced the steepest rent increases.
  • Pfizer announced Monday it had agreed to acquire Seagen—a biotech company developing cancer drugs—in a deal valued at $43 billion. The companies expect the deal—Pfizer’s biggest since 2009—to close later this year or early next, but it’s likely to face antitrust scrutiny from regulators.
  • A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters Monday the Kentucky Republican was discharged from the hospital earlier in the day, and will spend some time—likely one to two weeks—at an inpatient rehabilitation facility before returning home. McConnell tripped and fell at a private dinner in Washington, D.C., last week, suffering a concussion and minor rib fracture.
  • Patricia Schroeder, a Democrat who represented Colorado in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1973 to 1997, died on Monday from complications of a stroke at the age of 82.

Biden Tries to Have It Both Ways in Alaska

An oil pipeline in Alaska. (Photo by: Edwin Remsburg/VW Pics via Getty Images)
An oil pipeline in Alaska. (Photo by: Edwin Remsburg/VW Pics via Getty Images)

The Biden administration announced yesterday it had approved a large oil drilling venture in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve. The ConocoPhillips project—known as Willow—will provide a boost to domestic oil and gas production over the next decade, but the move drew plenty of criticism from environmentalists, climate activists, and Democratic lawmakers. The approval reflects the tightrope the administration is now trying to walk between pursuing a climate agenda and continuing oil production to temper gas prices and avoid further supply crunches. 

The Willow project has been in the works since 2018, but was put on a preliminary track toward approval last July, when the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released an environmental assessment that detailed several potential routes forward for drilling. The option the Interior Department ultimately chose yesterday involved scaling down the five planned drilling pads to three, with ConocoPhillips releasing the rights to 68,000 acres of additional oil leases the company holds in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A). 

Once it’s up and running at full capacity in five or six years, Willow is projected to produce up to 180,000 barrels of oil per day, 1.5 percent of the 11.9 million barrels per day the United States produced in 2022. The project will be located in ConocoPhillips’ 200,000-acre Bear Tooth Unit holding, but Willow’s drilling pads will cover only 380 of them—or 0.19 percent. Those 380 acres won’t constitute the entirety of the project—there’ll need to be roads, airstrips, pipelines, etc.—but 380 acres represents just 0.0016 percent of the total NPR-A, which stretches over approximately 23 million acres.

But just hours before it approved the Willow project, the Biden administration also announced further restrictions on oil drilling in Alaska. The measures will block or restrict drilling in 16 million acres in Alaska and the Arctic Ocean. President Biden used executive authority under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to designate 2.8 million acres in the Beaufort Sea as “indefinitely off limits.” The Interior Department also proposed a rule limiting oil and gas development in designated areas of the NPR-A that it considers “globally significant intact habitat for wildlife, including grizzly and polar bears, caribou, and hundreds of thousands of migratory birds.”

So, within 24 hours or so, the Biden administration approved both a project to expand oil drilling in Alaska and measures to restrict oil drilling in Alaska. If these sound like mixed messages, then that’s because they’re intended to be. The announcements are a pretty transparent maneuver to blunt criticism of Biden for backtracking on a key campaign promise: blocking any new oil and gas drilling on public land. 

Some of Biden’s most progressive allies weren’t fooled by the two-step. “The Biden administration has committed to fighting climate change and advancing environmental justice—today’s decision to approve the Willow project fails to live up to those promises,” said Sen. Ed Markey and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jared Huffman, and Raúl Grijalva in a joint statement yesterday. “Split decisions in the face of the climate crisis are not good enough.” Earlier this month, these Democratic lawmakers, joined by 18 of their colleagues, sent a letter to Biden opposing Willow. 

Biden’s own Interior Department secretary Deb Haaland was less than supportive of Willow. Haaland was conspicuously silent on the project and had her deputy sign off on the official approval. Haaland eventually released a video statement last night, seeking to distance herself and the administration from a move she said had been set in motion by previous administrations. “[Willow] is a difficult and complex issue that was inherited,” she said. “We had limited decision space, but we focused on how to reduce the project’s footprint.” 

But as divisive as Willow may be in Washington, support for the project is much more widespread in Alaska itself, where Republicans, Democrats, indigenous groups, and labor unions have all pushed for its approval. 

Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan are both supporters of the Willow project, as is the state’s recently elected Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola. “Today, the Biden Administration made the right choice and put real energy progress over absolutism,” Peltola said. “I campaigned on getting Willow done because I knew we needed it. We must reverse Alaska’s economic decline.” The Alaska American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations and the North America’s Building Trades Union both came out in favor of it, citing the union jobs that would be created by the project. 

Indigenous groups on the North Slope also favor the development, citing the new jobs and increased tax revenue it will bring. “The Willow Project is a new opportunity to ensure a viable future for our communities, creating generational economic stability for our people and advancing our self determination,” said the Voice of Arctic Iñupia, a nonprofit group with representatives from a number of tribes in the North Slope. “Willow is estimated to generate hundreds of direct jobs and thousands of construction jobs, along with contracting opportunities for Native-owned businesses.” The president of the group, Nagruk Harcharek, said there is a “majority consensus” supporting Willow.

But a “majority consensus” does not mean the project has unanimous support. “Our people feed their families with traditional subsistence activities like fishing and hunting caribou, moose, birds, and more,” said Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, mayor of the town of Nuiqsut that’s just 36 miles from where the drilling will take place. “The Willow project’s massive infrastructure would bulldoze straight through these crucial habitats.”

The fiercest criticisms came from environmental groups. “Willow is a climate disaster waiting to happen,” said Ben Jealous, president of the Sierra Club. “It is irreconcilable with the climate goals we need to meet to take on climate change, and allowing it would do irreversible damage to this treasured landscape.” The BLM assessment estimated oil from Willow would result in the release of nearly 280 million tons of carbon dioxide over the lifetime of the site. 

If you squint, you could see Willow as Biden following through on his push last year encouraging oil companies to increase their production amid rising gas prices and a supply crunch due to the war in Ukraine. But it takes forethought to develop drilling capability and oil rigs can’t just be turned on and off like a light switch; they require millions of dollars of investment and years of planning. 

Some energy experts pushed back against the opposition to Willow from environmental groups, defending Biden’s record on climate goals. “Killing individual supply projects doesn’t reduce oil demand,” Ben Cahill, a senior fellow in the energy and climate program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told The Dispatch. “We will need new supply for decades to come, even in the most rapid transition scenarios. The most effective way to reduce fossil fuel dependence is to cut demand in the electricity sector, transport, buildings, and industry—some of the many focus areas for the [Inflation Reduction Act].”

Worth Your Time: 

  • Yuval Levin’s latest column focuses on what old and young Americans owe each other in the debate over reforms to Social Security and Medicare. “Every society is an intergenerational compact of this sort,” he writes in the New York Times. “Our society would benefit by understanding itself this way, grasping that the relations between the generations should be shaped by gratitude to the past and solicitude for the future. Gratitude should lead us to make sure that older Americans can live comfortably in retirement. Solicitude should lead us to do so in ways that do not needlessly leave the next generation less prosperous than it could be. Those should be the terms of our debates about Social Security and Medicare. And they would clearly call for some changes to those programs, undertaken in a protective spirit of repair. Treating those programs as wasteful spending is one kind of failure of responsibility; but treating any proposed reforms of them as attacks on the aged is another.”
  • According to a new study conducted by non-profit Starts With Us and George Mason University’s Center for Media and Public Affairs, hyperpartisan politicians garnered an average of four times as much media coverage as Congress’ most bipartisan dealmakers. “The New York Times, a publication sometimes accused of a liberal slant, covered Marjorie Taylor Greene 84 times in the two months considered in the study,” Daniel De Visé wrote in a summary of the report. “The Times covered Rep. Matt Gaetz, a hyperpartisan Florida Republican, 15 times. Don Bacon, the bipartisan Republican, drew coverage only seven times. [Rep. Gus] Bilirakis drew no coverage at all. On the conservative wing, the Fox News website devoted 13 stories last fall to Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat and one of the seven hyperpartisan politicians identified in the study. ‘These news outlets are holding up the boogeyman on the other side,’ [Starts With Us CEO Tom] Fishman said. ‘They’re throwing meat to a base.’”

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • In the newsletters: Kevin wonders what it’ll take (🔒) for voters in struggling big cities to break from Democrats, the Dispatch Politics team explores how ESG investing—focused on “environmental, social, and governance” issues—became a right-wing flashpoint, and Nick takes a look (🔒) at the politics of the not-a-bailout bailout of Silicon Valley Bank.
  • On the podcasts: David and Sarah are joined by David Lat and Judge Kyle Duncan for a discussion of the protests Duncan faced at Stanford Law School last week.
  • On the site: Scott Ganz argues that the Biden administration took the wrong approach to the Silicon Valley Bank collapse. Plus, David M. Drucker looks at the important role mainstream media will play in the GOP primaries: “Candidates looking to carve a competitive lane and make themselves a factor in the race have to venture outside of conservative media to attract a winning coalition.”

Let Us Know

Who’s your bet to win the NCAA hoops tournament this year?

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.