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

Sens. Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski in August. (Jeff Chen/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 are 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 moving 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,” Regan 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 so far voted against one of Biden’s cabinet nominees — Treasury Sec. Janet Yellen. He said the vote was a response to Biden energy policy.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski says she also uses the confirmation process to make her case to nominees. When a nominee makes the rounds to interview privately with each senator Murkowski says 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 that 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. An Australian-based company called 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 the 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 says 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 says she hopes they don’t have to battle the administration permit by permit.

Alaska Public Media

Alaska Public Media is our partner station in Anchorage. KTOO collaborates with partners across the state to cover important news and to share stories with our audiences.

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