Alaska’s US senators want to thwart Biden’s anti-oil policies. Here’s what they’re trying.

Man in a suit in front of a desk mic
Sen. Dan Sullivan uses confirmation hearings as an opportunity to press the case that halting oil permitting and drilling leases kills good jobs. (Alaska Public Media)

With President Biden issuing executive orders pausing oil and gas leases and permits, Alaska’s U.S. senators are seeing years of their accomplishments erased. They’re fighting back, but with Democrats in control of Congress, their tools are limited.

Here are some of the options they’re using:

Option 1: Make the case in the media. Sen. Dan Sullivan argued against Biden’s low-carbon energy plan on Fox News last week, saying it kills jobs.

“We’re working hard to get the president to realize that he’s really damaging not just the economy but the American worker during a pandemic and a recession,” Sullivan said to Fox host Neil Cavuto. “Makes no sense.”

Option 2: Leverage the Senate confirmation process. Sullivan made the same case against the Biden energy plan at a confirmation hearing on Wednesday. 

“Nobody has an answer!” Sullivan said while questioning Biden’s nominee for EPA administrator, Michael Regan. “It’s a strategy and a policy that makes no sense, which is why we want to go see the president.”

Regan said the policies are aimed at transitioning the country to carbon-free energy. In the short term, he said, Alaska will benefit from Biden’s plan to invest in roads, electrical grids, and water and sewer infrastructure.

“I believe that many of the jobs and skill sets that people have in your state, and other states, can move quickly to those jobs,” he said.

Option 3: Aim for the Oval. Sullivan rallied 25 Republican senators, many from fossil-fuel production states, to sign a letter seeking a meeting with Biden. At Regan’s confirmation hearing, Sullivan said it hasn’t yielded results.

“The White House press secretary said, ‘Sorry, the president isn’t interested in meeting with one-quarter of the Senate on the issue of jobs and energy,'” Sullivan groused. “I hope he changes his mind, and if you get confirmed maybe you can convince (him) to talk about this really important issue.”

Option 4: Protest vote. Sullivan has voted against one of Biden’s cabinet nominees so far: Treasury Sec. Janet Yellen. He said the vote was a response to Biden’s energy policy.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski said she also used the confirmation process to make her case to nominees. When a nominee makes the rounds to interview privately with each senator, Murkowski said it’s a great time to educate them about Alaska’s special circumstances.

“I think what has rattled most of us is the breadth to which these executive orders and secretarial orders apply,” Murkowski said. “The first week with a secretarial order coming out — there is a pause on permits on oil and gas and federal lands. So we were hearing from every operator up in the NPR-A saying ‘What does this mean to us?’”

At least one operator was immediately affected. Australian-based company 88 Energy was waiting for permits to drill in the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska when the Biden Interior Department issued a 60-day pause.

Option 5: Hit the phones. Murkowski said the delegation leapt into action to get a faster permit review. She said they can’t assume new officials know that Alaska’s North Slope drilling season ends in April. 

“If you have permits that are on a 60-day pause in New Mexico or Louisiana, 60 days can come and go and you’re not going to lose your season,” she said. “In Alaska, 60 days come and go and you have lost a full season.”

Murkowski said she contacted the acting Interior secretary, among others.

The permits were issued a few days later. The senators might count that as a success, but Murkowski said she hopes they don’t have to battle the administration permit by permit.

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Liz Ruskin covers Alaska issues in Washington as the network's D.C. correspondent. She was born in Anchorage and is a West High grad. She has degrees from the University of Washington and the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia. She previously worked at the Homer News, the Anchorage Daily News and the Washington bureau of McClatchy Newspapers. She also freelanced for several years from the U.K. and Japan, in print and radio. Liz has been APRN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent since October 2013. She's @lruskin on Twitter. She welcomes your news tips at lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  | About Liz

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