Haaland criticized the “difficult” choice on the Willow project

Haaland, who has not commented publicly on Willow during her two years as head of the US agency overseeing the project, was not involved in the announcement or signed the approval order, leaving that to her deputy, Tommy Baudreau.

U online video posted Monday night, 10 hours after the decision was made public, Haaland said she and Biden, both Democrats, believe the climate crisis “is the most pressing issue of our lifetime.”

She called Willow “a complex and difficult legacy issue” from previous administrations and noted that ConocoPhillips had long held a lease to drill for oil at the site in the Alaska National Petroleum Reserve.

“As a result, we have limited decision-making space,” she said, adding that officials have focused on how to reduce the project’s footprint “and minimize its impact on people and wildlife.” The final approval reflects a much smaller project than ConocoPhillips originally proposed and includes a commitment by the Houston oil company to give up nearly 70,000 acres (28,000 hectares) of leased land that will no longer be developed, she said.

The video had more than 100,000 views by early Friday.

Haaland declined to be interviewed for this story. But the department said in a statement that Haaland was “actively involved” in the Willow decision from the beginning and met with Alaska Natives on both sides of the issue, conservation and other groups and members of Congress. “This includes an appearance with members of the Alaska Federation of Natives who were in town a week before the announcement,” the department said.

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