In the aftermath of the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by a mob of angry Trump supporters, Parler — the online hub for bigots and far-right extremists — was quickly painted as an instigating force, one that zealots had used to mount their offensive. But during a House Oversight Committee hearing on Tuesday probing the security failures that led to the insurrection, it was revealed that on more than 50 occasions, Parler had attempted to warn the FBI of the growing potential for violence.
According to Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Parler had uncovered “specific threats of violence being planned at the Capitol” on its platform and was apparently ready to sing like a canary in the weeks leading up to January 6, outing its own members and providing transcripts of the concerning communication to the feds.
When asked outright by Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) during testimony whether or not his agency had received any intelligence from social media companies, FBI Director Christopher Wray was evasive and seemed to downplay the existence of direct evidence that would have pointed to a mounting insurrectionist threat.
“We’ve had so much information, I’m reluctant to answer any questions about the word ‘any,’” Wray said. “Certainly we were aware of online chatter about the potential for violence, but I’m not aware that we had any intelligence indicating that hundreds of individuals were going to storm the Capitol itself, to my knowledge.”
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When pressed on whether or not the FBI had received intelligence from Parler specifically prior to the Jan. 6 attack, Wray conceded that it had, but declined to give specifics on what kind of intelligence had been relayed.
“My understanding is that they sent emails to a particular Field Office and that some of those contained possible threat information and some of them were referred to domestic terrorism squads,” he said.
For what it’s worth, Wray’s testimony is seemingly in direct conflict with a letter Parler sent to lawmakers last March, in which it claimed in no uncertain terms that it had been trying desperately to relay the very real threat of violence to federal authorities for weeks leading up to the Jan. 6 attack. In that letter, addressed to Maloney, Parler wrote that it had attempted to establish “formal lines of communication” with the FBI in light of record growth on the platform in the latter half of 2020, and wrote that it had sought to facilitate cooperation and forward instances of “unlawful incitement and violent threats.”
“Far from being the far-right instigator and rogue company that Big Tech has portrayed Parler to be, the facts conclusively demonstrate that Parler has been a responsible and law-abiding company focused on ensuring that only free and lawful speech exists on its platform,” Parler’s lawyers wrote in the letter.
One post Parler said it forwarded to the FBI called for an armed mob of 150,000 to march on D.C. on order to “react to the congressional events of January 6th.” Another sought recruits for “lighting up Antifa in Wa[shington, D.C.] on the 6th” because the user wanted to “start eliminating people.
Five people were ultimately killed as a result of the pro-Trump rampage, including one police officer who was beaten and one rioter who was shot at close range.
There’s never been any substantive evidence whatsoever that Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential race was due to fraud: It’s been debunked time and again, by everyone from Trump’s own DOJ chief to local election officials. Yet Trump spent the weeks after the election cooking up a series of fruitless, conspiracy theory-filled lawsuits in various states attempting to have the results tossed out, pressuring various state officials to do it for him, and signal-boosting hoaxes purporting to show he really won. The result, on Jan. 6, was Trump inciting a riot at the Capitol that failed to come anywhere close to its goal of preventing congressional certification of the results but ended with multiple deaths.
The newly released emails shed more light on the behind-the-scenes machinations in December 2020 and beyond by White House personnel, in particular chief of staff Mark Meadows, to cajole and coerce DOJ officials into abusing the department’s powers on behalf of Trump. At that time, former Attorney General Bill Barr was no longer in Trump’s good graces after failing to turn up widespread evidence of voter fraud (as it didn’t exist) and was in the process of resigning.
As CNN noted, the records show that on Dec. 14, 2020, Trump’s assistant emailed documents “From POTUS” purportedly showing “cover-up of voting crimes” in Michigan to senior DOJ officials Jeffrey Rosen and Richard Donoghue, who forwarded them to U.S. attorneys for the state’s eastern and western districts. Within an hour, Trump had announced Barr would be leaving the DOJ and promoted both of those officials—Rosen to acting attorney general and Donoghue to his acting deputy. According to the New York Times, over the next few weeks, Trump pressured Rosen to have the DOJ join onto lawsuits seeking to have the election results overturned, floating the idea of replacing Rosen if he didn’t play ball.
Meadows was previously known to have been involved in a Trump-led pressure campaign to have the Georgia secretary of state somehow alter the outcome of the state’s election results, the Times wrote. But the newly released emails show he also repeatedly pushed Rosen and the DOJ to launch investigations of ridiculous claims, such as a tale about nefarious Italian operatives who had used military technology and satellites to remotely hack into voting machines and flip votes for Trump. This was despite a longstanding directive that virtually all White House officials do not discuss investigations or prosecutions with the DOJ.
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Meadows cited this important finding to a translated letter, purportedly from a person in Italy and addressed to “Illustrious Mr. President,” that claimed “direct knowledge” of a “data switch” plot between the CIA, an Italian aerospace company, and a European Union military commander to rig the election for Biden using satellite transmitters of some kind.
“Our associates in the conservative part of the Italian secret services have been working since the beginning of November, 2020, to ensure that the truth is known and that the American people realize the result voted for: the re-election of President Trump,” the document, signed by “The Director Carlo Goria,” concluded.
The Italian theory was promoted by Trump supporters under the hashtags #Italygate and #ItalyDidIt, according to Reuters, and was boosted in early January by a press release from a Sarasota, Florida-based organization called Nations in Action (which fights “the collapse of civil society”) that detailed a supposed deposition of an arrested employee of the aeronautics company. In reality, Reuters found, the employee had been arrested in December 2020 over an unrelated cyber espionage plot targeting unmanned fighter jet and military/police aircraft programs, with the documents alleging a connection to the elections being transparent bullshit.
Meadows forwarded the separate “Carlo Goria” document to Rosen and other DOJ officials on Jan. 1, along with a YouTube video of retired CIA official turned One America News contributor Brad Johnson endorsing the Italian satellite theory. Donoghue replied to Rosen that the email was “pure insanity.”
Rosen wrote that he was pressured by the White House to have the FBI immediately meet with Johnson to begin investigating the Italian satellites, which he refused to do. He also said he told Rudy Giuliani, the president’s sweat-brained personal attorney, to stop bothering him on the matter.
“Yes. After this message, I was asked to have FBI meet with Brad Johnson, and I responded that Johnson could call or walk into FBI’s Washington Field Office with any evidence he purports to have,” Rosen wrote back to Donoghue. “On a follow up call, I learned that Johnson is working with Rudy Giuliani, who regarded my comments as ‘an insult.’”
“Asked if I would reconsider, I flatly refused and said I would not be giving any special treatment to Giuliani or any of his ‘witnesses,’ and re-affirmed yet again that I will not talk to Giuliani about any of this,” Rosen added.
Other emails show that on Dec. 29, Trump’s assistant at the White House emailed the DOJ asking them to pursue a 54-page legal brief seeking to have election results in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, and Nevada thrown out by the Supreme Court over “unconstitutional changes” in voting procedures, according to NBC News. Attorney Kurt Olsen, a private attorney and Trump ally, also emailed a DOJ official the brief, requesting a meeting with Rosen.
In other emails from Meadows to DOJ officials on Jan. 1, the chief of staff urged DOJ officials to investigate a bullshit theory that “signature match anomalies” in a county in Georgia were large enough to flip results for Trump. Rosen also received courtesy of Meadows a list of complaints about the election process in New Mexico compiled by a local Republican Party official.
In response to Meadows’ email concerning Georgia, Rosen emailed Donoghue, “Can you believe this? I am not going to respond to the message below.” Donoghue quipped, “At least it’s better than the last one, but that doesn’t say much.”
Finally, other emails showed that Meadows messaged then-Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark with pleas to talk to a Georgia lawyer named Byung J. Pak who could allegedly back up the claims of voter fraud in the state. As NBC News reported, Clark was one of the candidates Trump considered as a replacement for Rosen in case the acting attorney general failed to cave to his demands.
According to CNN, House Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney sent letters on Tuesday to Meadows, Rosen, Donoghue, Clark, and other DOJ colleagues asking them to present themselves to the committee for testimony. Meadows told the network in response to a request for comment on the appropriateness of the emails, “I’ll let you answer that. Obviously, I’m not going to comment on anything that may or may not have happened.” He refused to state whether he would testify.
“These documents show that President Trump tried to corrupt our nation’s chief law enforcement agency in a brazen attempt to overturn an election that he lost,” Maloney wrote in a press release. “Those who aided or witnessed President Trump’s unlawful actions must answer the Committee’s questions about this attempted subversion of democracy. My Committee is committed to ensuring that the events leading to the violent January 6 insurrection are fully investigated.”
YouTube updated its ads policies on Monday to ban any ads featuring gambling, alcohol, prescription drugs, and political content from prominently playing at the top of its homepage.
Before today, this so-called “masthead” spot—the giant banner ad you see splashed at the top of your screen whenever you visit the YouTube website—was held to the same standards as every other Google and YouTube ad. A Google spokesperson said that the company revamped these requirements to offer users a “better experience” when they peruse YouTube’s site. They added that the company “regularly [reviews its] advertising requirements to ensure they balance the needs of both advertisers and users.”
If you used YouTube at all during the past election season, you were probably bombarded by the nonstoptorrent of ads that the Trump campaign ran for weeks on end across the platform’s homepage. The company would later ban advertisers across the board from buying full-day advertisements to run in these masthead slots.
YouTube pointed out that these slots are “the most prominent placement” available to advertisers across any Google property, which makes them prime real estate—and incredibly expensive, with slots sometimes going for millions of dollars at a time.
But while the company might be getting scrupulous over this coveted piece of ad real estate, the company notes that ads turned down for the masthead spot “may continue to run on Google’s other owned and operated properties.” Considering howpoorly the ads on these “other properties” have been policed in the past, it’s worth assuming these rejected ads won’t have any problem reaching any of us regardless.
Reality Winner, the whistleblower jailed in 2017 for leaking classified NSA documents to the press, has been released from prison, her attorney confirmed to Gizmodo on Monday.
“I am thrilled to announce that Reality Winner has been released from prison,” said civil rights lawyer Alison Grinter, in a statement circulated on social media. “She is still in custody in the residential reentry process, but we are relieved and hopeful.”
Grinter said via phone that Winner’s sentence was technically supposed to end in November of this year and that her early release was the result of good behavior and the start of a normal reintegration process.
A U.S. Air Force veteran and former NSA contractor, Winner was arrested in 2017 for sharing classified information about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Winner mailed a classified report to The Intercept that appeared to show Russian attempts to hack dozens of local election offices throughout the country. The outlet subsequently published the material. At the time, the integrity of the 2016 election was a highly politicized issue—with ongoing sparring between President Trump and the U.S. intelligence community over the severity of Russian interference efforts.
In 2018, Winner pleaded guilty to one felony count of unauthorized transmission of national defense information and was sentenced to 63 months in federal prison—a record sentence for that type of crime. She served her time at a federal prison in Fort Worth, Texas.
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Grinter said Monday that there was an ongoing effort to get a presidential pardon for Winner.
“We’re still absolutely pressing for commutation,” said the attorney. “She should have never spent any of this time in prison. Her suffering was basically to appease one man’s feelings about the legitimacy of his election,” she said, in reference to Trump.
Grinter said that all of the paperwork for a commutation of Winner’s sentence had been filed in January 2020. “You apply and very often never hear anything,” she said while adding that her office would continue to advocate for the pardon.
As to what Winner will be doing in the near future, Grinter couldn’t say. “Her family really wants privacy right now,” she said.
A bipartisan coalition in the U.S. House of Representatives has introduced new antitrust legislation aimed at prying open Big Tech’s death grip on our lives. If the lawmakers get their way, it could mean that some of America’s largest tech companies will actually be broken up.
The bundle of five new bills, introduced by legislators in the antitrust subcommittee, comes at a time when Americans increasingly agree that the “Big Four” (Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple) and others of their ilk are way, way too big. Indeed, more and more people feel that giving a small cartel of mega-corporations supreme power over our data, commerce, and politics is a pretty terrible fucking idea. Who would’ve thought?
Thus, with the tagline “A Stronger Online Economy: Opportunity, Innovation, Choice,” the newly proposed laws look to implement substantial changes that would ostensibly increase actual market competition and stop the increasingly concentrated power of Silicon Valley’s biggest fish.
In the case of one bill, the Ending Platform Monopolies Act, the legislation would actually seek to break up parts of large companies that meet certain thresholds for size and influence (*cough, Amazon*). As the Wall Street Journal reports, the law would demand that such companies “effectively split in two or shed their private-label products.” The law would also make it illegal to own a company that “utilizes the covered platform for the sale or provision of products or services.”
A majority of the bills are specifically targeted at companies that have a “market capitalization of $600 billion or more” and are big enough to squash competition in significant ways, the WSJ reports.
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“Right now, unregulated tech monopolies have too much power over our economy,” said Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David N. Cicilline in a statement. “They are in a unique position to pick winners and losers, destroy small businesses, raise prices on consumers, and put folks out of work. Our agenda will level the playing field and ensure the wealthiest, most powerful tech monopolies play by the same rules as the rest of us” and would also prevent such a company from owning other businesses that create “conflicts of interest.”
It’s anybody’s guess how this will all shake out. These bills will need to pass both the House (currently controlled by the Democrats) and then clear the Senate, where they will run into more GOP votes and thus may encounter some resistance (less for the legislation’s anti-tech stance than its pro-regulation one). It’s also not altogether clear whether these laws pass the mustard when it comes to making meaningful change. Just a cursory glance at the bill text brings some questions to mind in terms of how they would actually be enacted and enforced.
On the whole, however, this seems like a step in the right direction and it’s nice to see our legislators working together for a change instead of, I don’t know, calling for the other party’s leaders to be beheaded for treason or whatever we all got used to during the Trump years. More of this, please.
Conservation advocates are gearing up for a major win. On Friday, the Forest Service said it would “repeal or replace” a Trump-era rollback that allows companies to build roads and other infrastructure in much of America’s largest national forest. It could be biggest victory for public lands the Biden administration has delivered yet—if the details pan out.
Three months before leaving office, President Trump opened up more than half of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest, to road building, logging, mining, and other development. That decision reversed protections under the Alaska Roadless Rule, which President Bill Clinton signed into law in 2001. The new development was first reported by the Washington Post.
“Taking an axe to Tongass old-growth protections was among the most reckless and irresponsible of the previous administration’s environmental rollbacks. Indigenous communities, hunters and anglers, the tourism and fishing industries, those who care about protecting our planet’s biodiversity and climate—all opposed removing roadless protections on the Tongass,” Andy Moderow, Alaska director of the Alaska Wilderness League, said in a statement.
If Biden puts the 20-year-old protections back on the books, it could mean the Tongass will once again be shielded from destructive industry, protecting the people and wildlife who call it home. But as Moderow pointed out, the White House hasn’t said exactly what protections it will instate.
“We applaud the Biden administration’s and the Forest Service’s commitment to addressing that rollback,” Moderow said, “but also want to make clear that a full reinstatement of roadless protections is a necessity.”
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The forest plays a crucial role in climate efforts, as it sequesters 10 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent each year. The U.S. is home to 154 national forests, but recent research found the Tongass holds 44% of the total carbon stored by all of them. Chopping down trees in the Tongass for lumber or to clear space for development removes that essential source of sequestration, which could turn the carbon sink into a carbon source.
Development would also erode the forest’s incredible biodiversity. The Tongass is full of old-growth cedar, spruce, and hemlock trees, as well as five varieties of Pacific salmon, grizzly bears, Sitka black-tailed deer, bald eagles, and rare varieties of wolves and goshawk birds.
Several Indigenous communities, including the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian, also call the Tongass National Forest their home and rely on it to live. Development could endanger sites long-considered sacred by Native people and threaten their water supply and ability to perform traditional cultural practices.
This past January, a coalition of Indigenous organizations, Alaska businesses, and environmental organizations sued the U.S. government in an attempt to block the Trump administration from stripping protections. Let’s hope that Biden reinstates full protections for the forest immediately, making that case obsolete.
Biden should go even further and protect land across the U.S. On his first day in office, Biden issued a pause on new oil and gas leasing on public lands, and this month, he announced a plan to suspend oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, undoing a policy Trump pushed through last year. But last month, his administration also said it will defend another Trump-era massive oil and gas drilling project in the Arctic, and writer Branko Marcetic recently reported that the administration has approved nearly 1,179 drilling permits on federal lands so far.
Clearly, Biden’s got a ways to go to show he’s serious about conservation. Reviving protections for the Tongass would be a good start.
The Biden administration passed an executive order on Wednesday that seeks to create a “criteria-based” framework for establishing whether foreign-owned apps present national security risks or not. In so doing, the regulation overturns three executive orders previously signed by former President Trump that took a decidedly more aggressive approach to the issue.
Biden’s new regulation seeks to pursue a more sober approach—arguing that the U.S. Government should “evaluate these threats through rigorous, evidence-based analysis” as a way of addressing “any unacceptable or undue risks consistent with overall national security, foreign policy, and economic objectives.”
In addition to overturning Trump’s bans, the order gives the U.S. Secretary of Commerce and a host of other business- and intelligence-related agency heads approximately four months to compile a report with recommendations about how best to protect against “United States persons’ sensitive data” being compromised “by persons owned or controlled by, or subject to the jurisdiction or direction of, a foreign adversary.” After its completion, the report will be sent to the President’s advisors so that the White House can make a more informed decision about how to proceed with further regulation.
This is very much in line with Biden’s style: whatever Trump did brashly and impulsively—probably after a 20-minute conversation with his national security advisors—Biden wants to address via committees and official agencies, thus turning decision-making back over to the natural flow of bureaucracy instead of ruling by hip-shooting, ill-informed fiat.
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It doesn’t ultimately mean that Biden’s government will end up in a drastically different place. If anything, Biden has signaled more consistency than change when it comes to foreign policy precedents set by the previous administration—particularly when it comes to China. This is doubtlessly because the consensus in the U.S. national security community remains that China is our biggest geopolitical foe (just look at that giant anti-China, Big Tech pork barrel that just passed the Senate, for instance).
Indeed, as Biden officials told the Wall Street Journal this week, they “remain concerned about security risks from Chinese and certain other foreign-owned apps.” Relevantly, Biden just followed in Trump’s footsteps by categorically banning U.S. investment in 59 different Chinese companies, including Huawei, in an effort to combat the threat “posed by the military-industrial complex of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).”
Last week, the White House announced a slate of nominations to fill roles in the Biden administration. Among them is attorney Neil MacBride, who has been tapped to be general counsel for the Treasury Department.
Right now, MacBride is a partner at the law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell. He formerly served as Biden’s chief counsel on the Senate. Oh, and he once sued the very department he’ll be working in on behalf of energy giant Exxon. For an administration that has pushed a whole of government approach to tackle the climate crisis, it’s an odd choice.
MacBride represented the energy major in 2017 when it sued the government just hours after it got hit with a $2 million fine for violating foreign sanctions. Specifically, U.S. authorities found that the firm was working with Igor Sechin, the president of Russian oil giant Rosneft, who was blacklisted by the U.S. after the nation’s takeover of Crimea from Ukraine. This happened while Rex Tillerson—who President Trump later chose as his secretary of state—was Exxon’s CEO.
Max Moran, research director for the personnel team at the Center for Economic Policy Research’s Revolving Door Project, said it’s clear Exxon didn’t do this because it couldn’t afford to pay the fine.
“It was a $2 million fine. I did the math, and that is .0001% of Exxon’s earnings that year,” he said. “So it seems like it was really about the principle of the thing, that the Treasury Department’s would dare to defy them on their business.”
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The Treasury should play an important role in the Biden administration’s strategy to bring the weight of the government to bear on the climate crisis. The agency advises the White House on all economic matters and sets economic policies and regulations for rich and powerful companies. Like what it did with Exxon, it can also fine those companies for failing to adhere to regulations. Given the manifold threats that climate change poses to the economy and the number of corporate bad actors that have fueled the crisis, the department will have no shortage of work to do.
Within the agency, the general counsel is meant to advise officials on what they can and can’t do to enforce rules. Nominating someone for that role who has fought against fines and regulations on behalf of major companies—including not only Exxon but also automotive corporations, pharmaceutical companies, and the rating agencies and banks behind the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis—doesn’t bode well.
“With MacBride in, that means that this guy is very well-positioned to be constantly telling Treasury they can’t do things or they shouldn’t take action or they shouldn’t do anything that’s going to interrupt, business as usual for his former clients and his probably future clients down the road once he ultimately leaves this job,” said Moran.
Under the right leadership, the Treasury Department could take the lead on not only enforcing stricter economic standards for polluters; it could go even further by helping put an end to fossil fuel subsidies and financing due to their climate risks. The move could inspire similar actions by the world’s other economic heavy hitters. But if he’s confirmed, MacBride’s record doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that the Treasury will be advised to take the climate crisis as seriously as it should.
“We’re just sending the message that it’s business as usual, and we are not serious on our climate commitments, especially ahead [the UN’s international climate talks known as] COP26 of this November,” Dorothy Slater, research assistant at the Revolving Door Project, said. “I think it’s a message, specifically to corporations, that says ‘you can go ahead and keep doing what you’re doing.’”
On his law firm’s website, MacBride boasts that he “helps clients navigate financial fraud, anti-corruption, money laundering, economic sanctions, False Claims Act violations, securities enforcement, and procurement and tax fraud.” In other words, he’s helped clients avoid the kind of controls that it will be his job to enforce in the Treasury Department.
“Really, the story of his career is defending corporations trying to worm their way around government regulation and be exempted from it,” said Slater.
Donald Trump Jr. has pivoted to the personalized celebrity video app Cameo because, as all relevant people do, he understands that nobody’s time on the internet should be free. You get that money, giiiirl.
Filed under the “activist” label but searchable under the “reality TV” category, his price point is $500, on par with Dr. Oz, Blac Chyna, and the co-hosts of MTV’s Catfish. (For the record, he’s worth five times as much as political consultant/convicted felon Roger Stone, and only one-third as much as Shark Tank’s Mr. Wonderful.) His typical response time is 22 hours. The page was first spotted by the Guardian, but reviews date back to May 24th.
As of Thursday evening, his page suggested that he’s been either not changing his shirt or firing these off back to back. Wearing a lime green Trump Scotland polo (he’s The Woodsy One), he wishes fans happy birthdays laced with outdoorsmen references to “hunting” and “fishing.” The setting alternates between a cabin with a flatscreen TV and a sun-dappled savannah or golf course. Perhaps from a $9.7 million home in a gated community in Palm Beach.
Most people get thanks for their support (financially, spiritually), but if you ask, Donald Trump Jr. is always here to dish out hot lib owns.
“Peter, this is Donald Trump Jr., and I’m told that you’re turning older than dirt,” he says. “And I’m not that sorry about that because I’m also told you’re a serious lib. Fortunately for you, at least you have a family that has the sense to not be a lib and that they’re full of Trump supporters.”
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He goes on to wish him a “good birthday regardless” and says “I hope your family rides you like Seabiscuit.” Which must be common rich person slang.
The great thing about Cameo is that you get to hear the kinds of things famous people say in casual conversation. Good to know that his principles are not for sale.
President Joe Biden campaigned saying that the climate crisis is the “number one threat” facing the U.S. Since entering the White House, he’s pledged to decarbonize the U.S. electricity grid by 2035 and ordered his administration to place a moratorium on drilling leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But on Wednesday, his administration confirmed that it will defend a massive oil and gas drilling project in the Arctic that the Trump administration fast-tracked.
The multibillion-dollar Willow Master Development Plan proposed by ConocoPhillips seeks to extract more than 100,000 barrels of oil a day for the next 30 years from Alaska’s North Slope in the western Arctic. The Trump administration greenlit the plan last autumn, allowing the company to drill up to three sites and build 37 miles (60 kilometers) of gravel roads, 386 miles (621 kilometers) of pipelines, an airstrip, and a facility to process the oil drilled on site.
Six conservation and Indigenous rights groups sued the government over the project in December, alleging that federal officials did not properly examine how the project would worsen the climate crisis, put the health and traditional practices of nearby Indigenous communities in jeopardy, and harm fragile Arctic caribou, migratory bird, and polar bear populations. In February, a federal court ordered a pause on construction while the suit is pending.
In light of the lawsuit, Biden previously directed his Interior Department to review the project’s approval. But on Wednesday, the Justice Department filed a legal brief saying that “Conoco does have valid lease rights.” From a legal standpoint, the brief says, federal agencies “adequately considered” the project’s effects on wildlife and that the Trump administration’s method of accounting for the greenhouse gas emissions the project will generate were acceptable. Groups that filed the suit are enraged.
“A change in administrations doesn’t suddenly make the industrialization of Alaska’s western Arctic more palatable,” Kristen Miller, acting executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, wrote in an email. “It doesn’t guarantee clean air and clean water for the people of Nuiqsut, essentially ignored throughout the permitting process and who are already feeling the negative impacts of development.”
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Miller said that despite the Biden administration’s claims, the Willow project would violate “bedrock environmental laws” including the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act, and that the Trump administration based its projections of the project’s greenhouse gas pollution on “inaccurate climate modeling.” Indeed, in its February ruling, the Ninth Circuit Court said the agencies’ climate modeling was faulty.
The DOJ brief comes barely more than a week after the International Energy Agency issued a groundbreaking report showing fossil fuel expansion needs to stop next year to meet the Paris Agreement target of keeping global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). And just last month, the Biden administration pledged to chop the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions in half compared to 2005 levels by the end of this decade. Throwing support behind this project, Miller said, flies in the face of those commitments.
“The Willow project is the poster child for the type of massive fossil fuel development that must be avoided today if we’re to avoid the worst climate impacts down the road,” said Miller.
All this warming is also making it harder for oil and gas drillers to do their business. ConocoPhillips has an absurd workaround for that, though. The firm’s Willow proposal included plans to install chillers into the permafrost to ensure it stays solid enough to drill through. Miller said this aspect of the plan was “infuriating.”
“What message does this send to frontline Arctic communities whose ice cellars are failing, or worse, whose villages are literally falling into the sea because of permafrost thaw?” she asked. “What does this say about our actual desire to address climate impacts and do the right thing by future generations if we’re good with letting industry work around its own climate impacts in order to continue the very activities that caused and will make those impacts worse?”
The brief isn’t the only disappointing climate decision that Biden’s DOJ has made. In March, it threw its support behind the PennEast Pipeline company in its attempt to overturn a 2019 court decision ruling that the company couldn’t use eminent domain powers to seize state-owned lands to develop a natural gas pipeline. The agency is also trying to kill a kids’ climate case that’s been wending its way through courts for years. Max Moran, a research assistant at the Center for Economic Policy Research’s Revolving Door Project, said that the agency’s comportment under Attorney General Merrick Garland on the climate crisis has overall been disappointing.
“As soon as Merrick Garland was confirmed as Joe Biden’s attorney general, he should have immediately directed the Justice Department to drop every Trump-era environmental case it was working on to defend or expand fossil fuel production,” he said. “Instead, Garland has been running the DOJ according to business-as-usual procedure, which means treating Trump as if he were any other president and not the corrupt authoritarian who nearly ended American democracy. As a result, Garland has mostly continued DOJ policies and litigation stances initiated under Trump.”
The federal court could ultimately still rule that the project cannot proceed, but the Biden administration’s support could help tip the scales in the energy firm’s favor.
“This is especially disappointing coming from a president who promised to do better, but we’re not backing down and we will see them in court,” Siqiñiq Maupin, director of Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic, an Arctic Indigenous rights organization, said in a statement. “We hope the administration changes course to stand with us and our health and right to be heard because our lives and our children’s lives depend on it.”