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Key Environmentalists Back Biden, Despite Broken Oil Promises

Four of the country’s largest environmental organizations said they are endorsing President Biden’s bid for re-election, despite anger from activists over his approval of a string of fossil fuel projects, including an enormous oil drilling plan in Alaska and a natural gas pipeline from West Virginia through Virginia.

The League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and NextGen America said they were setting aside their concerns over those projects — and the planet-warming emissions they will release.

The endorsements are some of the earliest by major environmental groups in a presidential contest. It is also the first time the four groups have made a joint endorsement.

In lining up behind the president more than 16 months before the election, some advocates said they hoped to remind Democratic voters that Mr. Biden had enacted the biggest climate legislation in U.S. history, pouring at least $370 billion into clean energy and electric vehicles. His administration has also proposed strict regulations on pollution from automobiles, trucks and power plants that are designed to slash the nation’s emissions to their lowest levels in decades.

“This is an administration that has done more to advance climate solutions than any by far,” said Tiernan Sittenfeld, the senior vice president of government affairs for the League of Conservation Voters.

The joint endorsement was announced Wednesday night at the League’s annual dinner event in Washington, where Mr. Biden gave remarks showcasing his environmental record. He is expected to pick up another endorsement, from the A.F.L.-C.I.O., at a labor rally in Philadelphia on Saturday.

“Certainly we don’t agree with every decision that they’ve made, but on balance this administration has done far more than any in history,” Ms. Sittenfeld said. She said the groups intend to recruit members to raise money for Mr. Biden’s campaign, participate in phone banks and attend rallies, particularly in battleground states.

Mr. Biden campaigned in 2020 on the most ambitious climate agenda of any candidate, promising to slash U.S. emissions roughly in half this decade. Young voters, who surveys show are particularly concerned about global warming, turned out in force during that election. Half of eligible voters aged 18 to 29 cast ballots in that election, one of the highest rates of participation since the voting age was lowered to 18, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University.

The landmark climate law Mr. Biden signed last year is projected to reduce America’s climate-warming carbon dioxide emissions by up to one billion tons in 2030, and proposed regulations could eliminate as much as 15 billion tons of carbon dioxide by 2055.

But Mr. Biden also promised “no more drilling on federal lands, period. Period, period, period.”

Despite that pledge, he has agreed to green-light a drilling project known as Willow on pristine federal land in Alaska and mandated the sale of offshore drilling leases as part of a deal to pass the climate bill. During negotiations with Republicans on the debt ceiling last month, Mr. Biden agreed to expedite the $6.6 billion Mountain Valley Pipeline, intended to carry natural gas about 300 miles from the Marcellus shale fields in West Virginia through Virginia to the North Carolina line. Environmental activists have been fighting that project for nearly a decade.

For many young climate activists, it was the final straw.

“You cannot honor the president and call him a climate champion when he is actively approving new fossil fuel projects,” said Michael Greenberg, president of Climate Defiance, a nonprofit group that has been disrupting events featuring Biden administration officials and other Democrats.

Climate Defiance members intended to protest outside the League of Conservation Voters dinner on Wednesday night, Mr. Greenberg said.

At a demonstration against the Mountain Valley Pipeline in front of the White House last week, Alice Hu, 25, said Mr. Biden’s climate legacy has been undercut by his approval of oil and gas development. As smoke from hundreds of Canadian wildfires hung in the air, Ms. Hu said the president needed to take on the fossil fuel industry in order to get her vote.

“If he wants to count on progressive votes, if he wants to count on youth votes, he needs to stop being a climate villain,” she said.

Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez, president of NextGen America, which is focused on young voters’ participation, said her group hoped to counter that dissent by endorsing Mr. Biden now. She noted that since Mr. Biden was elected in 2020, 17 million people have reached voting age.

“We know we need to spend the time and money to tell young people about why their vote still matters, and that’s why we’re doing this endorsement so early.,” she said.

The front-runner in the 2024 Republican field, former President Donald J. Trump, has attacked Mr. Biden’s climate policies, mocked climate science and championed the production of the fossil fuels chiefly responsible for warming the planet.

Geoff Garin, a Democratic strategist and pollster, said young, climate-minded voters are going to be critical to Mr. Biden’s re-election. But he also argued that while young people want to see the president do more to tackle climate change, there is little evidence that those angry over Willow or the Mountain Valley Pipeline will have much influence.

Still, Mr. Garin said, the Biden campaign needs to be better at communicating his climate achievements. “For Biden, what he’s dealing with young voters is a lack of recognition of what he’s done rather than hostility to any particular decision or policy,” he said.

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Mohammad SHiblu

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