Sullivan Presses Administration Not to Let Politics Alter Final Willow Decision

Senator criticizes Interior Secretary for repeatedly declining to meet with Alaska Native leaders

WASHINGTON—In a speech on the Senate floor this week, U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) argued that if the Department of the Interior (DOI) takes the unusual step of selecting a different alternative than “Alternative E,” recommended by career Bureau of Land Management (BLM) scientists and technical staff in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Willow Project on Alaska’s North Slope—further narrowing the project’s scope and making it economically unviable—such a decision would be driven by politics and not by science.

Sullivan also criticized Interior Secretary Deb Haaland for declining to meet with about 30 Alaska Native leaders who flew 5,000 miles to D.C. this week representing the North Slope Borough, the Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat, the Iñupiat Community of the North Slope (ICAS), and the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation. The secretary has declined to meet with these leaders on five separate occasions, according to the group. Sullivan reiterated his call on the media and the administration to include the voices and perspectives of Alaska Native leaders and unions, representing hard-working Alaskans and Americans, who are overwhelmingly supportive of Willow. Specifically, Sullivan highlighted several statements from top leaders of the nation’s largest building trade unions who are urging the Biden administration to allow the process to move forward on Willow without political interference.

Finally, Sullivan said the Record of Decision (ROD) for Willow, expected in the next 30 days, will pose a test for the President and his administration—whether they will follow the science and the interests of hard-working Americans, or whether they will yield to the demands of the far-left environmental groups seeking to kill the project.

On Willow being the number-one priority of the Alaska congressional delegation: 

So that is the Willow Project. We got the final EIS last week. And the Biden administration is still kind of saying: Maybe we are going to narrow this so much that we are going to kill it.  

I am going to talk about that. That would be unbelievable. I have tried to work with this administration and, certainly, Senator Murkowski has. We have made this the No. 1 issue from the Alaska delegation ever since Joe Biden stepped into office on day one. 

I personally raised this with the President, every Cabinet official. Willow is No. 1. If you want cooperation from the Alaska delegation, you have to work with us. We are there. We are almost there. But I want to talk about some of what happened last week because our good friends in the media, who love to write about this story, Willow, because they hate the project, they are biased in the project. So when the EIS came out last week, if you read the national media--which there was a lot of--guess who they quote. Guess who they quote. Do you think they quote the Alaskans who want it? The Native people? The indigenous people in my State who really want it? The unions? No. No, no, no. Our friends in the national media never quote them. They quote Greenpeace, Center for Biological Diversity. Who are the other radical groups? Earthjustice. All the far left radical groups--none of whom live in Alaska, by the way--they get fully quoted: Climate Bomb--all this crazy stuff. It is not scientific-based at all. But they don't quote people, in my view, who really, really matter--who really, really matter; particularly the Native people. 

You want to talk about racial justice; you want to talk about environmental justice; you want to talk about racial equity--buzz words the Biden administration uses all the time. The media does too. But somehow they always leave out the indigenous people of my State. 

On the potential for politics to interfere in the Willow Record of Decision:

It is wrong. It is wrong. Media is wrong. The Biden administration is wrong. I am going to go into this in a big way. But I just want to make one final point. When people talk about the science--the Democrats, we are the party of science--what happened last week was the final EIS came out, and that was the career staff at the Federal Agencies who came out with this final environmental impact statement. It wasn't great. It limited this project from five pads, which is where the Trump administration--their record of decision--concluded based on science that you can do this in an environmentally sensitive way. The Biden administration came out and said: No, we are going to move it to three pads. All right. That is the career staff. We can live with that.  

The private sector company, ConocoPhillips, can live with that. The Native people can live with that. We have 30 days. If you are an American who cares about energy security, national security, weigh in with BLM.gov, the Department of the Interior. Say: We have got to get the Willow Project going. 

If this gets limited beyond that, it is pure politics--pure politics. The Democrats, party of science--OK, prove it. If this gets limited more, it will kill the project. We know every far-left environmental group in the country--just read the paper--last week, they said, we are out to kill this thing. If this gets killed, it will be pure politics by Joe Biden, John Podesta--the whole group in the White House. 

So the Native people are very upset in my State because overwhelmingly they support this. Every major Native Alaskan group in the country supports this. And they can't get one quote in the newspaper. The Washington Post--forget it. They won't quote a Native Alaskan who supports it. They find the one who is against it and quote her. But the vast majority support it. This is the voice of the Arctic Inupiat. They put this statement out a couple of weeks ago. I am just going to read it again. 

“Outside activists groups”--that is the ones that always get quoted in the newspaper. You know the ones: Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, Earthjustice. By the way, Center for American Progress--interesting about them--they are really against it. 

Now, why is that so interesting? That was started by John Podesta. Until recently, he was the leader of it. They put statements out against Willow all the time. Now, he is in charge of making a decision on whether Willow should go forward. Is that fair? Boy, I hope he is being objective. Imagine if the shoe was on the other foot. I wouldn't even want to describe what that would look like.

So all these groups, they are always against it. But here are the Native people who want it. I will explain for a minute why they want it. So they said: 

Outside activist groups opposing Willow have drowned out-- 

Certainly in the media-- 

[o]ur local perspectives and are actively working to supersede the views of the Alaska Native people. 

True. By the way, the media--sorry, guys, but you are helping them in a great way to cancel the voices of the Native people. 

This is not environmental justice or any other kind of justice. 

It certainly is not racial equity. It is racial cancellation. I am continuing. 

It is a direct attack on Alaska Native self-determination.

So that is going on right now. And it is very frustrating. It is very frustrating because the voices of some amazing people in my State--the indigenous people of Alaska--are being canceled and drowned out. And our national media has no problem quoting in every story the far-left radical enviros who want to shut down every energy project in America, and they won't quote these great people. 

On the incredible benefits resource development has brought to Alaskans on the North Slope:

So why do they care about this project so much? Well, it is jobs. It is energy. It is revenues. But you know what? It is even bigger than that. Here is why they care.  

I break out this chart a lot. I am going to explain it here. This is a chart from the American Medical Association. And what it does, it looks at the changes and life expectancy in America from 1980 to 2014, a 25-year period. Now, look, we are all Americans. We want progress. Where you see anywhere kind of yellow and then green and then blue and then dark blue and purple, that is good in our country. That means people's life expectancy is increasing. We all want that. We all want that.

Now, unfortunately, you see like orange and red--a couple of spots in America, orange, red--that is actually American life expectancies in the last 25 years decreasing. Nobody wants that. 

This is another topic, but that is primarily parts of the country that were hit really hard by the opioid epidemic. We have to work together and improve it. We don't want to see any orange or red here. Nobody wants an American's life expectancy to decrease. That is bad. 

But here is my broader commitment. What part of America had the biggest life expectancy increase from 1980 to 2014? Increase. My State--the great State of Alaska. If you look at this map, life expectancy--particularly in the rural areas, the Native areas, Native villages, Aleutian Islands chain, parts of the southeast--life expectancy went up 5, 6, 7--up to 13 years--13 years. The highest in the country. That is great. That is great.

As I have said to many folks when we have been debating these issues here on the Senate floor, give me one indicator of policy success more important than are your citizens living longer. I have never heard anyone come back to me and say: Here is something more important, Dan. 

I don't think there is. 

So from 1980 to 2014, there are big swaths of Alaska where the life expectancy went like this. It is great. We should all celebrate that. Why did that happen? Why did that happen? I will tell you why it happened. We had major resource development here. We have Prudhoe Bay--the development of Prudhoe Bay--the biggest oil and gas field in North America, other oil and gas fields. They had the development of the Aleutian Islands chain with the Magnuson-Stevens Act for resource development on fisheries. That is a huge legislative change. You had mining. You had resource development, which was jobs and revenues. And all of a sudden, these communities were able to get things like clinics and flushed toilets and running water and gymnasiums--things that in the lower 48, in New Jersey, or other places, you just take for granted. We didn't have them there. 

And because we had jobs and resource development in an economy, you started having that, and you have people living longer.

So I think you are hopefully seeing the point. This Willow Project is a matter of life and death for my constituents. And that is why almost everybody--the Alaska Federation Native, every Native group, every group in Alaska--they are all for it. And that is why we get really mad and frustrated--I saw Senator Murkowski down here a couple of minutes ago, and she was frustrated--when the big Washington Post and New York Times write their left-leaning, anti-Willows, and they have no idea what they are writing about.

This is a matter of life and death, and they are canceling the voices of the people I represent, particularly the Native people. That has to change. That has to change. 

You know who else supports this? I had the great honor of giving my annual speech to the Alaska legislature 2 days ago in Juneau, AK. It is something Senator Murkowski and I do every year. It is a huge honor. I made the pitch on Willow to all the State senators, State representatives. And I am pretty sure we are going to get a unanimous joint resolution from the house and senate, Alaska State Legislature, saying how important this project is and how everybody in elected office in my State supports it. That is very unusual. In any State, you would have outliers. I am pretty sure we are going to get something unanimous. 

Why are we doing that? Again, to not just show the media but the Biden administration and the Congress that this issue unifies Alaskans. And we should be respected for this. We should be respected.

So the Native people of Alaska are very strongly supportive. They get canceled. You even have a couple of real clueless Congressmen on the other side of the Congress last week coming out saying Alaskans don't want the Willow Project, the Native people don't. I mean, these guys are clueless. I forget their names--some guy from Arizona--but they are wrong. 

On the Biden administration disregarding the voices of Alaska Native leaders: 

I am going to make another point, which is maybe even more frustrating. The media doesn't want to hear from the Native voice. Do you know who else doesn't want to hear? The Biden administration themselves--the Biden administration themselves. I can't tell you how many times I have heard the President, Cabinet officials, the Vice President talk about racial equity, racial justice, environmental justice all the time. 

Last night, I was with a remarkable gathering of Alaskan Native people. This was a trilateral gathering from the people on the North Slope where this Willow Project is going to take place--right here. I call it a trilateral gathering because it was the leaders--dozens of them--flew 5,000 miles from here--Utqiagvik, the top of the world, by the way--they flew 5,000 miles to Washington, DC. We all met last night: Senator Murkowski, Congresswoman Peltola. And it is the trilateral group because it is the Tribe, what I call Inupiaq Community of the Arctic Slope. This is a regionally, federally recognized Tribe of Inupiat people, their leadership. That was one part of this trilateral group. 

The second part was the regional borough--like a county. That is right here, the North Slope Borough. By the way, it is bigger than Montana. That is the size I am talking about. These are elected officials--city council, the mayor. They are all Inupiat indigenous people. That is the second part. 

The third part is the Alaska Native Regional Corporation called Arctic Slope Regional Corporation. Remember, it was created by Congress. It is an economic engine. It has Tribal and heritage components. 

So it was the leaders of all these three organizations, the Tribe, the borough, and the Regional Alaska Native Corporation--all their leadership. I have known these people for a long time. They are amazing, incredible Americans. You would love them.

A couple dozen of them flew from right here, from Barrow, to Washington, DC. They wanted a meeting with the Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland. They wanted a meeting with her. They didn't get the meeting. You would think: Geez, it is pretty important. Do you want to hear the voice of the Native people? Do you want to talk about racial equity, racial justice, environmental justice? These people just flew 5,000 miles to Washington, DC. The Secretary doesn't have time to meet with them. That is not very respectful. They are all supportive, by the way--the Tribe--they are all supportive of the Willow Project. 

But here is the thing. It wasn't just this week. This group of Alaska Natives, the trilateral group, some of the most important people in my State, have tried at least five different times to meet with the Secretary of the Interior. They have flown 5,000 miles to Washington, DC, to get one damn meeting with the Secretary of the Interior. Do you know what? Her office has said no every single time. Environmental justice, racial equity, respect for the Native people--come on. It is a bunch of baloney--five times at least. The only time Deb Haaland has ever given these people an audience was when she was up there for about 20 minutes. 

It is shocking. She is canceling the voices of the Native people of Alaska who want this project. They flew 5,000 miles--this trilateral group, the Tribe, the borough, the ANC. Nope, the Secretary is too busy. Nope, the Secretary is too busy last time and last time and last time. At least five different times they tried to meet with her. She won't listen. That is what I call cancellation.

Media, you are welcome to write that. You won't, of course. 

I guarantee you that in that time, she has probably met with representatives from some of these far-left radical groups--probably dozens of times--but she won't do it. 

You want to hear some real irony? As I mentioned last week, the scientists came out from the Federal Agencies and said: Here is the final environmental impact. It was very long, very detailed, very data-filled scientific studies. 

Remember, the normal course of business in the Federal Government is once you do an EIS, you have 30 days for the final Record of Decision. That almost always gets stamped “approved.” Rarely, do you have the Record of Decision 30 days later changing the EIS. What is happening in America is all these radical lower 48 environmental groups are trying like crazy to pressure John Podesta and the President of the United States to change it. That would be pure politics.

The Democrats say they are the party of science. This wouldn't be science at all. This would be pure, raw political power to appease the Center for Biological Diversity and completely screw the people I represent on the North Slope. That would happen. 

Here is the real irony. Last week, BLM put out this EIS. It was a pretty good statement. They narrowed it more. Then, the Department of the Interior put out a statement. They didn't attribute it to anybody. Deb Haaland certainly didn't say it was her statement. It was just a statement from the Department of the Interior saying the Department has substantial concerns about the Willow Project. Wait a minute. BLM is part of the Department, and BLM just came out with an EIS saying it was good. That is weird. It is the preferred alternative in the final EIS, which BLM just put out, so that is really strange.

And then they said: One of our concerns is direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions. Indirect--I don't know what that means. Deb Haaland doesn't worry about greenhouse gas emissions from New Mexico, which has increased production in oil and gas in the last 3 years by 700,000 barrels a day. Where is that story, Washington Post?

But they also said they are concerned about the impacts to wildlife and Alaska Native subsistence. They might change it based on that. But who are the people who understand impacts to wildlife in Alaska Native subsistence on the North Slope? Who are they? They are the people I was with last night. They are the people Deb Haaland refuses to meet with. 

So the Department of the Interior was really concerned about “impacts to wildlife and Alaska Native subsistence.” She had 30 Alaska Native leaders in DC yesterday to tell her about it. These are the whaling captains; these are the hunters; these are the people who know this issue more than anybody.

Do you know what this is? This is just a ruse, right? If the Department of the Interior was really worried about impacts to wildlife and Alaska Native subsistence, don't you think Deb Haaland would at least have taken one meeting with these great leaders who are the leaders on Alaska Native subsistence and wildlife? 

The North Slope Borough Project has the best wildlife experts in the world, and the borough was here yesterday--same with ICAS, the Native Tribe. They were here. It is a little fishy that the Secretary of the Interior won't meet with these great Alaska Natives. Why? Because they are going to say: Madam Secretary, respectfully, we really want this project. 

On the test Willow poses to the Biden administration:

Let me conclude with one other voice that is being ignored, canceled, whatever you want to talk about on the Willow Project. I like this picture. I love this picture, actually. It is a very iconic photo of men and women--actually, it is just all men in that photo. These are the great Americans who built this country. This is taking a lunch break while they are building the Empire State Building. I think they built that in 18 months, 12 months, something incredible like that. The reason I like this picture is because there has become a theme, unfortunately. Some of my Democratic colleagues don't like it when I say this, but there has become a theme that I have seen over the years--certainly in Alaska and maybe not in the rest of the country--but I think it is pretty much the rest of the country, and it is this. My friends in the Democratic Party used to say: We are the party of the working men and women, men and women who built stuff like the Empire State Building and build projects like Willow or the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.

Here is the thing. Whenever the national Democrats--Joe Biden, you name it--whenever they have a choice, a choice between the radical far-left environmental elites who want to stop stuff and these men and women who build things, every time--every single time--they go with the radical elites and sell out the working men and women in America, every time. Some of my Democratic colleagues don't like it when I say that. Well, I am sorry, but I think it is truthful. 

I will say--and I said it on the floor the other day--I have a lot of Senate colleagues, Republicans and, in particular, Democrats, and I am so thankful, who have called and reached out to the White House and said: Look, you guys, come on, this Willow project makes so much sense. It has been in permitting for decades. Every environmental review has passed with flying colors. The President is really going to Saudi Arabia to get on bended knee to beg for oil? He is really going to Venezuela to lift sanctions to get oil from them, and we are not letting Alaskans produce it? That is crazy.

A lot of my Democratic colleagues--I am not going to name them because they probably don't want to be named--I appreciate you guys calling the White House to say: Come on, you have to approve this Willow project. 

But here is the thing. Last year, I had what is called a Congressional Review Act on a permitting issue. The White House, believe it or not, after the infrastructure bill, which I supported--we had good permitting reform in it. After the infrastructure bill passed, the White House put out a rule that would make infrastructure projects much harder to permit, particularly energy projects.

I brought what is called a Congressional Review Act piece of legislation to rescind the Biden administration rule so we could build things more quickly. I am proud to say, a bipartisan group of Senators supported it. President Biden said he was going to veto the Sullivan bill if it comes to his desk. All right. Mr. President, that is a bad idea.

But the reason I am mentioning that now was that was a test because I had every building trade in America supporting my Congressional Review Act resolution to rescind the Biden administration's arcane rule that would make permitting infrastructure projects harder, and the working men and women said we are supporting the Sullivan Congressional Review Act. And guess what. It passed. Now, the usual suspects, Center for Biological Diversity and all the left green groups, were against it. That was a test.

Whom are you with, the working men and women of America or far-left elite, radical environmental groups that want to shut it down again? That is a test. I posed it to my Senate colleagues. The Senate passed the test. It was bipartisan--not by much, but it was still bipartisan. Thank you, Joe Manchin.

Here is the thing. Willow is another test. It is not a test for my colleagues here. If we had a vote on Willow right now, I bet it would pass well over 60, 65 Senators.

So, again, I thank my Democratic colleagues for helping me. All my Republican colleagues want it done. They know it is good for Alaska and really good for America. But here is the thing: Once again, all the big building trades, all of them are coming out in huge support for the Willow Project. They are making it--the laborers, the building tradesmen--they are making it one of their biggest priorities, if not their biggest priority, for these people. Why? As I mentioned, 2,500 construction jobs--that is the estimate to build this--75 percent of which will be labor and building trade union jobs. 

Here are just a few of the statements from some of these great Americans--and they are great Americans. I have gotten to know these labor leaders, the heart and soul of the country. 

Here is Terry O'Sullivan, Labors International, LIUNA:

Energy infrastructure, oil and natural gas in particular, is the largest privately funded job-creating sector for LIUNA construction workers. The oil and natural gas industry has provided tens of thousands of jobs, resulting in millions of work hours for our members. These are quality union jobs with families supporting wages and benefits. The same is true for the Willow project.

LIUNA, Terry O'Sullivan, laborer, pro-Willow.

Where is that story, Washington Post, New York Times? You won't write it. You never write it. You canceled these twice. 

These are great Americans. 

How about Mark McManus, general president of the Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Union? Let's see what he said about Willow:

It is long past time we create good-paying union jobs and invest in North Slope [Alaska] communities that will benefit directly from this project in the [NPR-A, as we call it].

NPR-A set aside 7 years ago for oil and gas development. The Willow Project will help deliver reliable energy to consumers and provide billions of dollars in economic investments in these communities.

There you go. Pipefitters.

Come on, national media, write that story. Just don't keep quoting the far-left environmental groups; quote working men and women who built this Nation.

Who else? James Callahan, president of the operating engineers. Willow will also put operating engineers to work. Those are his union members. He is in charge of them. He is another great American, along with others in the skilled trades. These jobs offer families sustaining wages and offer strong health and pension benefits. Furthermore, construction of the Willow Project will provide much needed revenue to Alaska and the North Slope communities, the Native communities. Another union leader in America. 

Now, look, the President likes to call himself blue-collar Joe and working Joe and all of that.

Prove it, Mr. President. Prove it. 

This is another example of a choice. The only groups in this country right now who want to shut down the Willow Project are far-left, radical environmental groups who don't want to build anything, who don't give a darn about working men and women in America and certainly don't give a darn about the Native community on the North Slope. 

I really wish our media friends would write this story. The unions support it; quote them. The Native people support it; quote them, don't cancel them. 

This administration needs to wake up. The American people are getting tired of this. This is a test. The EIS came out last week. If it is changed, it will be because of raw political power by far-left environmental groups who forced the White House to kill this project.

I am just going to end with this. This is just an example. These are union members. These are broad-based groups of Alaska Native organizations. These are just economic groups in our State and nationally. This is not a hard call.

This project has the highest environmental standards in the world, and if we need oil and gas, which we do, why wouldn't we get it from American workers, like the people I just quoted, to help Alaska Native communities, like the people I just quoted? Why is the Federal Government--Joe Biden--going to Saudi Arabia to beg for oil? By the way, he got rejected. Why did we lift sanctions on Venezuela, a terrorist regime? To get more oil--whose production processes are 18 times more polluting than an American oil and gas project. Why? None of this makes sense. 

So, again, I want to thank my Democratic Senate colleagues in particular. We have 30 days. If you are an American and you care about energy security and good jobs, if you are a union member, pick up the phone, send an email--blm.gov--and tell them: Stop the madness. Finalize the Willow Project for the benefit of the Native people in Alaska, for the benefit of working Americans, for the benefit of our national security, and for the benefit of our environment. That is what we need to do. I am hoping that the Biden administration makes the right call.

I yield the floor.

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