Imagine your house is on fire. The flames are spreading. To your relief, the fire department arrives. But instead of water, gasoline gushes out of the hose, and the flames grow. That is exactly what the Biden Administration just did to our home – planet Earth – when it approved the ConocoPhillips Willow Project in Alaska – an oil drilling project that will further fuel the flames of climate change. And whether you live in Portland, Maine, or Portland, Oregon, you should be worried and more than a little bit outraged.

CORRECTION Biden Drilling

An exploratory drilling camp at the proposed site of the Willow oil project on Alaska’s North Slope. ConocoPhillips via AP

In his State of the Union last month, the President called the climate crisis an existential threat. During his campaign he promised, “No more drilling on federal lands, period, period, period.” And said it would be “a big disaster, in my view” to drill in the Arctic. Well, he was right. Experts have made clear that we cannot reach global climate goals with any new oil and gas development. So it is hard to square the administration’s commitment to cut U.S. emissions in half by 2030 with what would be the largest new oil and gas project on public lands, producing up to 287 million metric tons of carbon dioxide over the next 30 years. That’s equal to the annual emissions of 76 coal-fired power plants — a third of all coal plants in the U.S.

And the craziest part is it will not even begin to produce any oil for years, by which point we will likely have enough renewables that it won’t even be needed. So this will not, as touted, reduce gas prices in the short term, and with millions of Americans petitioning against it, will also not help the president get reelected.

All this may seem like something far-removed from our two Portlands, but the reality is, it has grave consequences for Mainers and Oregonians alike and the ocean, which many of our states’ residents rely on. The ocean has already absorbed 90% of the excess heat and nearly one-third of the carbon generated by greenhouse gas emissions. If not for the ocean, the average global temperatures on land would be 122°F. That’s six degrees hotter than the peak of the deadly heat dome that descended on the West Coast Portland in 2021, and more than 20 degrees hotter than the heat wave that hit Maine last summer that many found intolerable.

Right now, the ocean is at a tipping point. Absorbing all that heat and carbon – most of which has come from fossil fuel extraction and use – has increased ocean temperature and acidity, with serious and growing consequences for fish, wildlife, and the coastal communities playing out in real time.

In the Gulf of Maine, where the water is warming faster than 97% of the world’s ocean surface, there is increasing vulnerability for many commercial species of fish. For the iconic New England fishing industry – already facing shutdowns and income loss – scientists are concerned that some stocks may never recover.


Oregon was one of the first places in the world  to observe ocean acidification, and it is posing a direct threat to the West Coast shellfish industry that generates $270 million annually and employs thousands of workers, as oysters and mussels struggle to form shells. Marine heatwaves – commonly known as the “blob” – are becoming more common, threatening marine wildlife such as gray whales, upending weather patterns and spurring algal blooms that delay or shut down fisheries from crab to salmon.

And these are just precursors of disasters to come. Emissions generated by the Willow Project will exacerbate rising seas in Maine, putting people’s homes and coastal community infrastructure at risk, and make wildfires in Oregon more common and extreme.

Recently, a bipartisan coalition of governors, including Govs. Mills and Kotek, asked President Biden to take swift federal action to accelerate America’s transition to a net-zero emissions future in order to alleviate some of the worst climate impacts yet to come.

That future will not be possible, however, until the president stops approving projects that will keep the oil spigot flowing for decades. We need to say no to Willow. President Biden’s climate legacy – and the future health and safety of Americans from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Oregon – depend on it.

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