Talk about being a day late and a dollar short — or actually many, many dollars short.
Alaska Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan bemoaned the Biden administration’s decision this week to suspend the leases for oil exploration in portions of the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Yet they voted to confirm the very administration official who executed the decree, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, knowing full well her opposition to oil development in ANWR.
Full disclosure before going further: I worked as a press secretary for GOP U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller when he ran against both Murkowski and Sullivan.
The experience did give me a greater sense of the importance of the oil industry in the Last Frontier.
After decades of attempts to open the remote strip of land in northeast Alaska, ANWR’s 1002 Area was finally green-lit for oil development during former President Donald Trump’s administration as part of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
Don’t buy the bull. Only a small sliver of ANWR (Area 1002), specifically set aside for potential drilling yrs ago, is impacted by #TaxReformBill. Most of ANWR will remain off-limits to #energy work. #copolitics #ANWR #TaxReformBill #gop #stoplying pic.twitter.com/ij099L7Vw2
— Sean Paige (@SeanPaige) December 3, 2017
Murkowski and Sullivan celebrated the legislation’s passage and what it would mean for their state.
“Alaskans can now look forward to our best opportunity to refill the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, thousands of jobs that will pay better wages, and potentially $60 billion in royalties for our state alone,” Murkowski said in a joint news release with Sullivan at the time.
This made their vote in March to confirm Biden’s Interior Secretary nominee Haaland all the more puzzling.
Mind you, Murkowski and Sullivan were two of only four Republicans who voted for the controversial choice.
Alaska Senators Murkowski and Sullivan, who were two of the four Republicans to vote to confirm Deb Haaland as Interior Secretary in March, opposed the Interior Dept’s announcement today to suspend all oil and gas leases in ANWR. https://t.co/VUlUUYuCk9 https://t.co/B7xmwHUbMe
— Craig Caplan (@CraigCaplan) June 2, 2021
They knew Haaland’s opposition to drilling in ANWR.
Alaska Public Media headlined in December 2020: “Biden’s pick for Interior secretary is a passionate foe of drilling in Arctic Refuge.”
“I’m here to support my family in Alaska. To protect the Arctic Refuge. To protect the animals and the trees and everything that lives there,” Haaland said as a congresswoman-elect at an anti-drilling rally in front of the U.S. Capitol in 2018.
“Because not everything should be based on how much money we can make,” she added.
Haaland, who is Native American, meant “family” in the broad sense that the rally was organized by a group of Alaska Native people, according to APR.
Later in 2018, Haaland co-sponsored a bill that would have blocked the Bureau of Land Management (which of course falls under the Department of the Interior) from holding a lease sale in ANWR as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act required.
Surprise, surprise. Haaland, now as head of the Interior Department, issued an order Tuesday halting all activities in ANWR related to oil exploration, citing “alleged legal deficiencies” and an “insufficient analysis” of the environmental impact.
While the move is listed as “temporary,” the expiration date of the order is open-ended.
Predictably, the Alaska congressional delegation, including Murkowski, Sullivan and Republican Rep. Don Young all came out forcefully against Haaland’s decision.
“The Biden administration’s actions are not unexpected but are outrageous nonetheless,” Murkowski said.
Sullivan added, “The law is clear: Congress mandated the leasing program in the 1002 Area and required two lease sales within seven years.”
The two lawmakers have no ground to stand on now, given their confirmation vote in March.
The oil and gas industry is the largest portion of Alaska’s economy, and the senators’ votes showed a lack of commitment to it.
“The oil industry accounts for one-quarter of Alaska jobs and about one-half of the overall economy when the spending of state revenues from oil production is considered. In other words, without oil, Alaska’s economy would be half its size,” according to the state’s Resource Development Council.
“In 2018, the industry accounted for more than 77,600 direct and indirect jobs and $4.8 billion in Alaska wages.”
The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported in April that oil production in the Last Frontier reached its lowest level in more than 40 years in 2020.
The downward trend has been continuing since the late ’80s and opening ANWR, which likely holds over 10 billion barrels of untapped oil reserves, offered an opportunity to reverse the trend.
The least Murkowski and Sullivan could have done to show solidarity with hardworking Alaskans was to vote against Haaland’s confirmation.
However, they did not, and now they’re reaping what they helped sow.
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