Sullivan Requests IG Investigation of Senior Biden Interior Officials Targeting Alaska
Senator decries Biden administration’s “War on Alaska” with 20 executive actions
WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), a member of the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, yesterday sent a letter to the inspector general (IG) of the Department of the Interior (DOI) requesting an investigation of four senior political appointees in the department who are allegedly working on matters directly related to and benefitting their previous clients and work. The officials mentioned by Sen. Sullivan are Nada Culver, deputy director of policy and programs at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM); Natalie Landreth, deputy solicitor for lands at DOI; Laura Daniel Davis, deputy assistant secretary for land and mineral management at DOI; and Robert Anderson, solicitor at DOI. In his letter, Sullivan alleges that the officials have clear conflicts of interest, violating federal ethics laws, having worked to halt certain resource development projects in Alaska in their prior positions with environmental advocacy groups, and subsequently working to halt those same projects as executive branch employees.
The Alaska projects described include the Willow Project in the National Petroleum Reserve of Alaska (NPR-A), the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) oil and gas leasing program, and the Ambler Road project—all projects that have been slowed or stopped by the Biden administration DOI.
In addition to requesting the ethics investigation, Sen. Sullivan has requested a series of documents, within 30 days, from the DOI IG, including signed and dated ethics pledges for each official, recusals or ethics waivers issued by or to any of the officials, and any communications between the DOI officials and their former employers or clients since their appointments.
Sen. Sullivan announced his letter in a speech on the Senate floor last night. In his remarks, Sullivan decried an ongoing “anti-Alaska agenda” and “war on Alaska working families” by the Biden administration through its issuance of 20 executive orders and actions specifically focused on the state since coming into office in January. Sullivan also criticized Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) for leading efforts among members of Congress to block investment and projects in Alaska, while New Mexico has received nearly half of all drilling permits approved nationwide on federal lands in the past year.
Below is a full transcript of the senator’s floor speech:
Madam President, today, I wanted to rise on the Senate floor and talk about a topic of utmost importance to my State, the great people I have the privilege of representing, and what the Biden administration is doing to good, hard?working American families in Alaska. It is what I call the “anti?Alaska agenda,” or the Biden administration's war on working families.
I know that Americans all across the country have felt pain—economic pain, health pain, unfortunately, too many deaths as a result of the pandemic. Right now, we are seeing high energy prices and empty shelves. There has been a lot of suffering in America. We are a resilient people, however.
My State, like many, has been hit very hard by the pandemic, particularly economically—our energy sector, our fishing sector, our tourism sector. And as we are coming out of this pandemic and everybody is trying to work together—we all want growth and opportunity in America—we have now been hit with this.
This administration has issued, in its first 9 months in office, 20 Executive orders or Executive actions solely focused on Alaska. I came down to the floor 2 weeks ago to talk about this. It was 19 then. You wait a week or two with the Biden administration in Alaska, and it is up to 20. I am sure they have a lot more ready to go. Twenty. There is no State in America that is getting this kind of attention from the Biden administration, and we don't want it.
What I am going to be continuing to ask my Senate colleagues to do—and I am going to start with the President of the United States, who was a U.S. Senator for many years, decades—put yourself in the shoes of the people I represent.
Let's imagine that a Republican administration comes into office and issues 20 Executive orders or Executive actions focused on Delaware—tiny, little Delaware. The Senators from Delaware, including the former Senator, now?President, would be down on the floor of the U.S. Senate raising Cain, raising heck—I don't think I am allowed to swear here—because of this, because they want to stick up for the people they represent. Imagine that.
These Executive orders and actions are not some kind of simple abstractions; they are 20 orders and actions that go to the heart of what Alaskans do in terms of our economy: work, keeping food on the table, keeping lights on in their homes, paying the mortgage, keeping their kids in college, keeping their cultures thriving, keeping our communities from crumbling, particularly in rural Alaska. Some of the poorest communities in America are where this administration is targeting the people I represent.
Very few people in my State—Democrat, Republican, Native, non?Native—support this war against Alaska. This is not a partisan issue back home, and here is why: because real people, real families, real communities are being hurt—your fellow Americans. It has got to stop.
I have demanded a meeting with the President and his team to just walk him through this. Mr. President, do you know what you are doing to one of your States that you are sworn to defend?
These orders threaten the well?being of my entire State, but they particularly threaten the people who live in rural Alaska, who are dependent on the land and natural resources for so much of their economy, so much of their tax base.
Here is the thing. I know what some of my colleagues or those who are watching are saying: Oh, it is just resource development issues in Alaska. Well, I will talk about that. It is some of that, but it is not just resource development issues that are happening here. Let me give you one that really burns me up.
We had a bipartisan bill last year, last Congress, to provide what you will now call racial justice, racial equity, to Alaskan Native Vietnam veterans who served their country when most Americans were avoiding service and missed out, because they were overseas fighting for their nation, on the opportunity to apply for what is called a land allotment. There was a deadline that happened, a complete injustice.
Native Vietnam veterans coming home, not treated well because they are Native, not treated well because they are Vietnam veterans, and then told: “Oh, by the way, the land you were supposed to get, you don't qualify.”
So we got a bill passed to say that is an injustice. The previous administration signed it. They were implementing it. And when this administration came into office, the number one issue I asked Secretary Haaland to commit to was to finish getting the Executive order out on these land allotments, to implement this bipartisan bill, because these Native Vietnam veterans aren't living that long.
The administration delayed it for 2 years. Why? It has nothing do to with oil and gas or mining. Why? These Vietnam vets, many aren't going to live for 2 more years. They did it anyway.
That is one of 20. Let me give you another one.
We have had, down in Southeast Alaska, the issue of the Tongass—that is the largest national forest in the country. Every elected official—Governor, Senator, Democrat, Republican—in Alaska, the last 30 years, has pressed with the Roadless Rule, an exemption to the Roadless Rule, so we can have an economy there; roads for Southeast communities. Every elected Governor or U.S. Senator, didn’t matter the party, that is how important this was. We were able to get an exemption in the last administration. I appreciate what President Trump did on that.
This administration comes in, and they reverse it. One of the 20. Guess how we, the Alaska delegation, found out about that reversal. A front?page story in the Washington Post. The Secretary of Agriculture wanted to brief the Washington Post and all of the extreme environmental groups who wanted this before they let the people of Alaska or their representatives know. These are the examples.
And, yes, the list also includes resource development projects. But here is the thing on that—I have a folder full of letters. These are letters from the elected leaders, Tribal leaders, borough leaders, Alaska Native Corp. leaders, Native leaders in my State—dozens of letters. Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation, Native village of Kaktovik—that is a Tribe, City of Utqiagvik, City of Atqasuk, City of Wainwright, Inupiaq Community of the Arctic Slope—that is another Tribe, the Voice of the Inupiat Arctic. These are all Alaskan Native leaders who live on the North Slope, some of whom live in the Arctic National Wildlife area. Every single one of these great leaders in my State, every one, was writing, even begging, this administration not to do this—not to do this. And they ignored them.
This is a letter from Edward Rexford. He is the President of the Native Village of Kaktovik. He wrote to Secretary Deb Haaland after she suspended oil and gas leases in ANWR, which we passed. What the Secretary did, in my view, was clearly illegal.
Edward Rexford wrote: “You have changed our future with one stroke of a pen without any explanation or consultation with us—the tribe that lives within the Coastal Plain.”
His village, Kaktovik, is the only village within the coastal area of ANWR. That is it. There is no group of Americans who should have a greater voice in the development of this area than them. But they didn't even get a phone call—not a phone call, not a consultation, Tribal consultation, which is required by law—none of it.
That is all part of the 20 Executive orders and actions that I said are hurting people, hurting communities, hurting families, hurting Native cultures.
I will tell you this: The Biden administration loves to talk about how they are committed to environmental justice and racial equity, but it is with a caveat.
Here is the reality: They want to help unserved minority populations around the country. And I think this is a good goal, but it comes with a caveat: unless, of course, they are indigenous people of Alaska. Then the Biden administration targets them.
Look at this folder. These are communities of color in my State, and all they do is get targeted, not helped; targeted, their economic opportunity. And then the things that most Americans take for granted that don't exist in these communities—clinics, flushed toilets, gymnasiums—all of that comes with economic opportunity. And when you shut it down, you are really hurting indigenous people in some of the most impoverished communities in the country. But I guess they seem OK with that.
I want all of my Senate colleagues to do just a quick thought experiment. Imagine what it would be like, whether you are a Democrat or a Republican—but just think about it: You are a Democrat and a Republican administration comes in or you are a Republican and a Democrat administration comes in and changes the future of your State with a stroke of a pen, as Edward Rexford said, for the people you represent. Imagine an administration coming in with 20 Executive orders in 8 months, shutting down your economy as you are trying to get out of a pandemic.
Every Senator here would be mad. And the one thing I very much enjoy about serving in this body is we are a collegial body. We have our differences, but I certainly have friends on both sides of the aisle. I try to work with everybody, try to be respectful with everybody. The Presiding Officer and I chaired committees together, worked together on a lot of things.
And here is the thing. If a Republican administration came into power and targeted one of my colleague's States with 20 Executive orders in 8 months and whoever it was came to me and said: "Hey, Dan, you know this is unfair. My constituents are really being attacked, really being hurt. Could you reach out to the Republican administration and say: ‘Hey, come on. Tone it down. Geez, Louise, 20 Executive orders in one State?’" I would help, and I think almost every Senator here would help. That is what we do here.
And I want to say that some of my Democratic colleagues here, when I have talked about this, when I have told them about this, when I have spoken about this, a number of them have come to me and said: "Hey, Dan, give me the list. Give me the list of 20. Maybe I can't help you on every one of them, all of them. Maybe there are some I actually like. But I do want to try and help." That is what has happened. That is what makes this body a good place. To those Senators, I really want to thank you. And I am going to ask for your help because I would do it for you.
And this is unacceptable. Tens of thousands of people I represent are being hurt by the federal government, by the President and his White House. So I appreciate that from my colleagues. And this is, in general, how this body works. It makes this a special place.
But I will say this. Not all Senators have been so gracious and senatorial and collegial. To the contrary, a few of my colleagues are helping lead the charge in the war on Alaska's working families. They seem to be putting a ton of effort into it themselves. I am not sure why, but they spend a lot of their time and energy focused on doing this: shutting down the Alaska economy, hurting working families, and ridiculously and absurdly, acting as if they speak for the very people I am privileged to represent, as if they don't have enough to do in terms of helping their own constituents.
So I am going to make an example and give an example of one. The leader of this small group is the senior Senator from New Mexico. Here is a sampling—three letters in the last year and a half he has written, signed, or led, focusing on shutting down Alaska's economy and hurting the great people I have the privilege of representing.
Two of these letters deal with the 1002 Area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—controversial, no doubt. In 2017, we voted to provide the opportunity for development in that small area, what we call the 1002 Area. The President signed it. It came into law.
Now, I know most of my colleagues on the Democratic side didn't agree with that. We have legislation we don't agree with. I accept that. I am still very good friends with so many.
But, afterward, the senior Senator from New Mexico led letters to all of the top banks in America and all of the top insurance and financial institutions in America and didn't just say don't invest in ANWR but said "don't invest in any oil and gas development project in the Arctic."
What is that, the Arctic of America? That is my State.
So now you have, as opposed to collegiality, a small group, led by this Senator, writing the biggest banks in America, the biggest financial institutions in America, trying to muscle them, saying: Don't invest anything in Alaska.
That is not what this body is all about. I would never do that to a colleague. I would never write all the banks of America and say: Don't invest in poor communities, Native communities in New Mexico or in the New Mexico oil and gas industry. I wouldn't do that.
Who does that? Well, unfortunately, a few—not many, a few—Senators are doing that.
Absurdly, this Senator had the audacity, in one of his letters, to try to speak for the people I represent. He put in the letter: The people dependent on the Arctic Refuge don't want you to invest there.
That is patently absurd. Just read the letters from all of the people who actually live there, all of the people who live there, who overwhelmingly want opportunities for oil and gas development and for jobs and economic opportunity.
You would think, with all of New Mexico's problems, this Senator would focus on his own constituents.
So I reached out to him and the few others who wrote these letters. I have reached out. I wrote my own letter to them saying: “Hey, I was disappointed to see you do that. Why didn't you come talk to me? I wouldn't do that to you. And, by the way, what you are doing is really going to hurt my constituents.”
This is a letter I wrote to this Senator and a few others: I would appreciate the courtesy of talking about this before you go do it. You clearly don't understand the indigenous communities that I represent. I even provided a Wall Street Journal op?ed from the mayor of the North Slope Borough, Harry Brower, the Inupiaq mayor, who had a lot to say to the banks who weren't going to invest in his community.
But I got no response. To the contrary, just a few months ago, this same Senator led a letter to the Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, asking her to shut down a very important energy development in Alaska called the Willow Project. This is that letter—just about 4 months ago.
Let me talk about the Willow Project. The Willow Project is not in a controversial area; it is in the National Petroleum Reserve of Alaska, set aside by Congress decades ago for oil and gas development. Every Native group in Alaska supports this project, all the unions do. 2,000 direct jobs, billions in revenues for some of the poorest communities in America, and the lowest emissions of any major oil and gas development project in America.
This is a huge win?win?win for everybody—not even controversial. Yet the senior Senator from New Mexico wrote Deb Haaland saying: “Shut down the Willow Project in Alaska.”
Why is he doing this, literally trying to kill thousands of Alaska jobs and impoverish Alaska Native communities?
Do the people in New Mexico know that their senior Senator spends so much time trying to give Alaska oil and gas workers pink slips and impoverish Native communities? I wonder. I wonder.
I thought, for just a moment, maybe I should do something against New Mexico, but then I was like: “No. You know what, that is not my style. I wouldn't want to hurt New Mexico oil and gas workers or Native communities. They are all great Americans, I am sure. We are a great country. I wouldn't want to target them the way this Senator is targeting my State, trying to hurt thousands of Alaskan working families.”
And it should be emphasized, and I want to emphasize, that is not how we work here. That is not what I have seen in my almost seven years in the U.S. Senate, Senators trying to attack other Senators' States, specifically focusing on hurting working families.
The vast majority of the Senators I know wouldn't do that at all. That is not how business is conducted here in the U.S. Senate. To the contrary, most of us generally try to help each other. We don't always agree; that is for sure. But, particularly when States have unique challenges that could hurt their citizens, when my colleagues would come to me and say, "Hey, Dan, can you help out on this," I usually try to help. But I certainly don't go on offense and try to hurt like this administration is doing and the senior Senator from New Mexico.
But I thought the better course to fight back—because I am going to fight back, OK. I am going to fight back. These are my constituents who are hurting. The better course to fight back against these attacks on Alaskan working families was not to try to hurt New Mexicans, but just to show this, the rank hypocrisy of what the senior Senator is actually doing and saying.
One of his main reasons, in this latest letter, to shut down Alaska, in trying to deny Federal permits for the Willow oil and gas project, is to "achieve climate goals." OK? That is in his letter to Deb Haaland.
But if you do just a little digging, this Senator seems fine with trying to achieve these goals on the backs of Alaskan workers and Alaska Natives but not on his own constituents, not on the backs of his own constituents—to the contrary.
Guess which State in America has gotten way more Federal oil and gas drilling permits than any other State in the country. Guess which one. It is certainly not Alaska. It happens to be New Mexico. It just so happens to be New Mexico.
Guess where the Secretary of the Interior is from. New Mexico. Hmm. Is that a coincidence? I wonder, in their frequent phone calls, when they talk about concerns of climate and shutting down oil and gas in Alaska, if shutting down oil and gas in New Mexico ever comes up?
I am pretty sure it doesn't. How do I know that? Because close to half of all oil and gas drilling permits issued by the Department of the Interior, by New Mexican Deb Haaland, in 2021 have gone to one State. What State is that? New Mexico—2,286 Federal oil and gas drilling permits; almost half of all of the permits in the country to one State.
So here is the bottom line. Here is their view. Shut down Alaska, hurt working families in Alaska, supposedly, to help America's climate goals, but then quietly say "drill, baby, drill" in New Mexico, with more permits by far than any other State in the country—almost 2,300. If that is not rank hypocrisy, I don't know what is.
So I am going to start asking questions about this and, by the way, so should the press. I sure hope our friends in the press think that, hmm, there is something a little strange going on here. Clearly, there is hypocrisy happening. But, you know, that happens here occasionally—or maybe more than occasionally. But is there anything else going on?
And I hope the press in New Mexico ask their senior Senator why he is so darn focused on hurting the good people of Alaska—because I wouldn't do that to New Mexican oil and gas workers or New Mexican Native communities.
And finally, I am going to ask questions in another area. The Biden administration is clearly trying to shut down my State. It is there for everybody to see. Everybody back home knows it. But here is the thing. They can't do it illegally, and they can't do it unethically. And right now there is strong evidence that they are doing just that. What do I mean? Today, I sent this letter, that I would like to be printed in the record, to the inspector general of the Department of the Interior.
Here is what I am asking in this letter. There is very strong evidence that at least four senior political appointees at the Department of the Interior who have been involved in many of these 20 Executive orders and Executive actions shutting down my State were actually, in their previous jobs, working on the very same issues and advocating for the very same outcomes—meaning they are working with a special interest group to say shut down the Willow Project.
And then when it came to the Interior, they are working on whether or not to shut down the Willow Project. Now, most of us know, if that is true, that is clearly illegal and clearly unethical.
We have documented in this letter—four senior Department of the Interior officials, all of whom who are trying to shut down my State—and I think there is strong evidence that they are violating ethics laws and violating the law. So I have asked for a detailed investigation by the Department of the Interior inspector general into whether or not these individuals have violated federal ethics laws in their quest to hurt working families in my State.
Let me conclude with this. I am a supporter of responsible resource development in America of all of the above: energy, wind, solar, oil, gas—in every part of our great country, in Alaska, of course, in New Mexico—all across our great land. And I am a supporter of the great men and women who do this in Alaska and New Mexico and Texas and North Dakota.
What is happening in my State right now, this is just wrong, and I am going to fight it. And any other Senator who would be going through what my State is going through, with your constituents being harmed, you would be down on the floor fighting it, too.
The vast majority of the U.S. Senators here—Democrats and Republicans—I think deep down in their hearts know that this is just wrong. You don't come in with a new administration and say, “Hey, let me target one State and beat the heck out of their working families.” It is just wrong.
And I am hopeful that my colleagues here—and I am asking them because we need the help. I have great people I represent—proud, tough people, but you can't fight the whole damn federal government when they are focused on shutting you down. So I am hopeful that my colleagues—all of my colleagues—I will share the list of the 20—that you can help me get the Biden administration and some misguided hypocritical U.S. Senators to enact a cease?fire in their war on working families and Native communities in the great State of Alaska.
I yield the floor.
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