Murkowski pins Haaland down on Arctic Refuge

woman seated at table with microphone
Deb Haaland at her confirmation hearing. (Senate video)

Sen. Lisa Murkowski got tough with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland during a Senate hearing on the department’s budget Wednesday.

Murkowski started with a critique of Haaland’s 17-page opening statement. Murkowski said it hardly mentions natural resource extraction.

“There really is no recognition for the production on our federal lands and the role that that plays,” she said.

Haaland has both pleased and angered Alaska’s Congressional delegation during her three months on the job. 

Murkowski acknowledged that Interior is proceeding with the Conoco-Phillips’ Willow development in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. Then she moved on to a sore point: the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

“It wasn’t a surprise, but no less a disappointment,” Murkowski said, “to learn that your department was suspending leases in Alaska’s 1002 area in direct conflict with the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.”

RELATED: ‘That’s the law’: Murkowski confronts BLM nominee about ANWR

That’s a provision Murkowski added to the tax-cut bill requiring two lease sales on the coastal flats of the Arctic Refuge. She made sure Haaland acknowledged it.

“So the question, very directly, is: Do you believe that you are required by current law to hold a lease sale in the 1002 area of ANWR by 2024?” she said.

Haaland has answered this one before, including when Murkowski asked it at her confirmation hearing.

“I emphasized that I will always, always follow the law,” Haaland said. “And we will follow the law. And if that is in the law, we will follow the law.”

“Good,” Murkowski responded. “I appreciate that because I don’t think there’s any ambiguity.”

Murkowski also said she’s encouraged by a court ruling from Louisiana this week that held the Biden administration’s pause on drilling lease sales is illegal. Alaska and a dozen other states filed the lawsuit in March. It cites a lease sale in Cook Inlet that was slated for this year but put on hold pending an Interior Department review.