OP-ED: Headwinds and hope for the new year

Let’s face it, 2021 was another tough year. The pandemic, which we had all hoped would be in the rearview mirror by now, is still front and center. It’s taken too many lives of our fellow Americans, and has greatly disrupted our communities. Inflation, which is at a 40-year high, is shrinking the budgets of working Alaskans. Compounding these serious challenges is the Biden administration’s open hostility to Alaska’s economy and our way of life.

However, despite these challenges, we have been able to make some important progress for our state. While it wasn’t perfect, the bipartisan infrastructure bill that became law in November addresses Alaska’s historic deficit in infrastructure investment, including billions of dollars for roads, bridges, ports, water and wastewater, and our ferry system. Importantly, it also contains historic funding for broadband build-out — as much as $1.5 billion over five years for Alaska, which could create exciting economic, educational and health care opportunities all across our state.

Further, a significant amount of the federal funds from this legislation will go to the states, whose elected officials know better than Washington, D.C., bureaucrats on where to deploy these significant infrastructure investments. These substantial funds coming to Alaska in the next five years should also help enable our Alaska Legislature and governor to finalize a long-term fiscal plan for the state.

Importantly, passage of the hard infrastructure bill paved the way for Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia to deliver the death knell to the Biden administration’s reckless “Build Back Better” bill, which would have supercharged inflation, shut down energy opportunities in our state, and put America on a path toward European-style socialism. That bill is dead, for now, and I intend to work just as hard in this new year to make sure it stays that way.

There are other reasons for optimism for our state’s future. In last year’s National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, we were able to include a provision to create the Ted Stevens Center for Arctic Security Studies, which will be housed in Anchorage. In order to address the rise of great power competition with Russia and China in the Arctic, the Ted Stevens Center will serve as a new focal point for Arctic economic and defense strategy as it combines Alaska’s extensive reserve of Arctic expertise with the best and brightest minds from around the world.

We were able to further cement Alaska as the center of gravity for America’s Arctic security operations in this year’s NDAA through a provision I authored creating a new Arctic Security Initiative, which should lead to more focus, personnel, vessels, infrastructure, aircraft and investment being directed to our state. Additionally, when combined with the Coast Guard construction funds from the hard infrastructure bill, and this year’s NDAA, Alaska will have close to an additional $350 million in military construction investments. This is great for America’s national security, as well as Alaska’s economy and jobs.

Other bright spots in our state’s economy include a tourism industry that we all hope is poised to come roaring back this summer, as well as an increased recognition by the aviation industry of our strategic location, which is resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in new air cargo investments at the Anchorage airport, and more jobs and economic activity in Fairbanks. Hundreds of thousands of barrels per day from large oil projects, like Pitka and Willow on the North Slope, are in sight. Critical economic developments, like the Graphite Creek Project near Nome, and the Ambler District mining projects — which will provide our country with the minerals and metals we need to compete with China — are in the important stages of the permitting process. And, at long last, the strategic Donlin Mine in the Yukon-Kuskokwim region has received its final permits and is expected to provide good-paying jobs and generate significant economic activity, including lower-cost energy for the region and our state.

But the headwinds we face are real and strong. The Biden administration has arrogantly worked to overturn or delay nearly every resource project that the Trump administration approved, even though these projects were approved by professional, career federal agency staff. These are projects that keep Alaskans working and produce resources that we need to keep our country strong — oil and gas, critical minerals and metals, timber — resources we extract using the highest environmental standards in the world and ones that, if not produced here, are imported from other countries that don’t share our values and don’t respect our high standards on labor and the environment.

Alaska is undoubtedly in the bull’s-eye for the Biden administration’s goal of killing resource projects, limiting access to our lands and harming workers in our state. So far, this administration has targeted Alaska — by name — at least 20 times in executive orders and actions that go to the heart of our economy. No other state in the country has been targeted so aggressively by this administration.

Even some of my Democratic Senate colleagues are surprised by this unprecedented assault on our state. I have requested a meeting with the president to see if he even knows that his administration has so singularly focused on targeting workers in one state. Imagine if a Republican administration in its first year targeted Delaware with 20 executive branch actions — Joe Biden would be rightly furious.

Some of my Senate colleagues have offered to try to help us. Others, however, are leading the charge in the war on Alaska by urging financial institutions to not invest in Alaska, and requesting that the federal government shut down other energy projects in our state. In a recent Senate floor speech, I called out the Biden administration’s war on Alaska’s working families and Native communities and then singled out one of my colleagues, Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, who is leading this effort. In the speech and in person, I pointed out how rankly hypocritical it was of him trying to shut down Alaska’s energy production while his state, New Mexico, received more federal oil and gas drilling permits than any other state in the country last year.

Despite the Biden administration’s singular focus on shutting down Alaska, we are still a nation of laws, and they can’t wield executive power illegally or unethically. We’ve seen strong evidence that members of this administration are doing just that. At least four senior political appointees at the Department of the Interior, or DOI, who have been involved in the 20 executive orders and actions against Alaska, were, in their previous jobs, working on the very same issues and advocating for the shutdown of Alaska’s economic opportunities. This is clearly illegal, and I’ve written to the DOI inspector general requesting an investigation into whether these individuals have violated federal ethics laws in their quest to hurt working families in our state. We’ve heard that DOI officials have indicated that they might delay even more Alaska projects if I continue this fight. Such tactics, if true, are more in keeping with how governments treat their citizens in Russia and Venezuela, not America.

2021 was a rough year. But I remain optimistic. We live in the greatest state, in the greatest country in the world, and we have been through rough times before. We have always emerged stronger, wiser and more resilient, and I’m confident we will do so again.

Happy New Year, Alaska!

By:  Sen. Dan Sullivan