Sullivan Statement on Confirmation of Congresswoman Deb Haaland as Secretary of the Interior

I. Introduction

Every vote I take in this Chamber, I try to cast based on what I think will be best for the constituents I represent, my state and our country. Sometimes, of course, that’s not always so easy to discern. 

The vote to confirm Congresswoman Deb Haaland was one of the most difficult I have made during my time in the U.S. Senate.

In normal times, I would have firmly opposed the confirmation of Congresswoman Haaland.

As a congresswoman, Haaland took positions publicly—cosponsoring the Green New Deal, prohibiting all gas and oil leasing on federal lands, and displaying hostility toward Alaska Native people and systems just because they are different from the Lower 48 model she is familiar with—that I believe would clearly negatively impact Alaska and America. In normal times, this would be an easy “no” vote. 

But these are not normal times. Our state’s economy and our working families are under pressure, stress and assault due to the pandemic and the Biden administration’s initial hostile actions against Alaska and our resource development sector. I believe that my vote to confirm Congresswoman Haaland as Secretary of the Interior may enhance my ability to successfully advocate for a ceasefire in the Biden administration’s war on the Alaska economy and working families. We need all the help we can get, particularly from the head of an agency, the Department of the Interior, that wields enormous power over our state and our economy.  

It’s also important to keep in mind that a “no” vote would’ve made no difference in Congresswoman Haaland’s confirmation. She was going to get confirmed with or without my vote. A “no” vote could have very well diminished my ability to get the Biden administration to limit the damage it is already doing to Alaska.

Further, despite some of her radical views on energy as a congresswoman, in my meetings with Congresswoman Haaland, I was able to get her to acknowledge and recognize the importance of the oil and gas sector for Alaska and America, especially its good-paying jobs; the benefits of mining in terms of jobs and critical supplies for our nation; the significant difference between the way in which federal laws treat Alaska Natives versus Lower 48 Native Americans;  the critical importance of being able to hunt and fish on federal lands, and the necessity to work with the State of Alaska on these issues; and the requirement to follow the law and congressional mandates as they relate to the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), and oil and gas leasing requirement in federal legislation relating to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and the National Petroleum Reserve of Alaska (NPR-A).

I was also able to get a firm commitment from her to meet personally with a wide variety of Alaskans from many different backgrounds, including the following groups: 

  • People of King Cove and the North Slope Borough
  • Mining community
  • Oil and gas workers and North Slope contractors
  • Hunters, trappers, and angling community, and State of Alaska fish and game managers
  • Alaska Native leaders, including tribal leaders, the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN), regional and village corporations.
  • Alaska veterans

The purpose of these meetings will generally be the same: to let Congresswoman Haaland hear directly from hundreds of Alaskans that the decisions she ends up making about our state—for example, on the Willow project in the National Petroleum Reserve of Alaska—will directly impact the lives of thousands of Alaskans, either positively or negatively. 

Congresswoman Haaland is the daughter of a mother who served in the Navy and a father who served in the Marines and was awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart in Vietnam. I expect her to understand the value of integrity and to honor these and other commitments she made to me and my fellow Alaskans about our economic future and opportunities.

II. Alaska Under Siege by the Biden Administration 

As I stated before, these are not normal times for Alaska and our country.  

  • The pandemic has hit Alaska particularly hard, especially the energy, tourism, and commercial fishing sectors, with thousands of jobs lost.
  • The Secretary of the Interior plays an oversized role in our economy, jobs, and future, given that approximately 66% of Alaska is federal land.
  • I was honored to work closely with the Trump administration’s Interior secretaries to achieve several historic wins for our state involving resource development projects, the creation of good jobs in Alaska, access to our federal lands, and the rights of Alaska Natives, particularly Vietnam veterans.
  • Certain members of the Biden administration are focused on reversing all of this Alaska progress which will deepen the challenges for our state, killing jobs by the thousands in our resource development sector, in what I have decried as Biden’s war on Alaska’s economy and working families; but many of the policy decisions of the Biden administration in this regard have not yet been finalized.
  • Republicans, unfortunately, lost control of the U.S. Senate; Congresswoman Haaland is guaranteed to be confirmed as the new Secretary of the Interior, whether I vote for or against her confirmation. 

This is the new reality and context in which I decided my vote. The key issue to me was this: How would a “yes” or a “no” for Congresswoman Haaland help me influence her and the Biden administration to take actions that will limit harm for Alaska, especially our working families. After watching her nomination hearings closely and having had close to three hours of meetings with her myself, I have concluded that a “yes” vote is more likely than a “no” vote to create the opportunity to build a relationship with her and her team, a relationship that could enable me to influence the Department of the Interior’s decisions and action on critical Alaska issues that could benefit our state, like moving forward on the Willow project, which is estimated to create thousands of jobs and bring billions of dollars in revenue to the State of Alaska and North Slope Borough. 

I took this vote with eyes wide open, however, knowing full well that a number of officials in the Biden administration and their radical environmental allies are hellbent on shutting down our state and crushing opportunities for Alaskans, but I thought if my “yes” vote might be able to influence decisions about Alaska in any positive way, then it might be worth it. This is particularly true given the precarious state of Alaska’s economy and the fact that, internally, the Biden administration is still having key debates about the direction of their energy and climate change policies, as well as their decisions about resource development in our great state. For example, President Biden has recently told labor leaders that he is “all for natural gas” production and jobs, but self-styled “President of the world,” John Kerry, says that the U.S. should curtail the production of oil and natural gas and the good-paying jobs in this sector.

I have also seen some evidence that the ability to engage with senior Biden administration officials can help produce results that limit harm to our state. In late January, I received urgent messages from certain Alaska oil and gas contractors that they were about to lay off close to 200 employees on the North Slope as a result of the Biden administration’s 60-day moratorium on Department of the Interior decisions. My staff and I reached out to senior Biden officials and argued forcefully that their moratorium was being interpreted to destroy close to 200 great paying jobs in Alaska. These Biden officials worked to clarify the meaning of the moratorium and these Alaskan workers, whose jobs were at risk, continued their important work on the Slope. 

III. Advocating for Alaska Under Difficult Circumstances

I recognize Congresswoman Haaland’s role as the first indigenous woman to be Secretary of the Interior is historic and important to many Alaskans, as was the confirmation of Tara Sweeney, the first Alaska Native to serve as Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs. Assistant Secretary Sweeney did an outstanding job for our state and nation. I hope Congresswoman Haaland can follow Assistant Secretary Sweeney’s example of understanding the many differences under federal law that exist between Alaska Native peoples and Lower 48 Native Americans, while still respecting both groups and endeavoring to provide all of our nation’s First Peoples with opportunities to thrive, both economically and culturally. 

As I said, this vote was one of the most difficult I have made during my time in the U.S. Senate. I am proud of my record as Alaska’s Attorney General, Natural Resources Commissioner, and U.S. Senator as a long-time and relentless champion, advocate, and fighter for my state’s resource development sector, and the economic opportunity and working families that benefit from it.

It is my hope, but certainly no guarantee, that my vote to confirm Congresswoman Haaland as Secretary of the Interior may enhance my ability to successfully advocate for a ceasefire in the Biden administration’s war on the Alaska economy and working families. We need all the help we can get, particularly from the head of an agency, the Department of the Interior, that wields enormous power over our state. A “no” vote, on the other hand, would likely have diminished my ability to successfully advocate for a strong resource development sector in Alaska, and would not have changed the outcome of her confirmation as Secretary of the Interior. 

I know this is a difficult time for all of us, and I appreciate the support, advice and input that so many Alaskans have given me throughout the years. As I said, I can’t guarantee that this vote—or others that I will take during this administration—will yield the results we want. But I do know that because Republicans lost control of the Senate, our hand is not nearly as strong as it recently was. For this reason, Alaskans must all work together to make the best of a difficult situation with an administration that will likely work to reverse the recent historic progress we’ve made for our state in many areas. You have my continued commitment to work relentlessly—cooperating when possible, fighting when I must—to limit the Biden administration’s harmful actions against our state in the best way I know how. That was the ultimate context in which I made my vote today.