By RICK WHITBECK | POWER THE FUTURE
When Congress in 2017 approved exploration and development opportunities in Alaska’s Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, it marked an end to a 37-year struggle to open the plain. Originally authorized by Congress in 1980, the plain holds a tremendous reserve that could enhance U.S. energy security for decades.
President Joe Biden killed those opportunities with a stroke of his pen.
Invoking climate change, the president canceled already-executed lease contracts with the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority for its seven tracts of land on the Coastal Plain.
In doing so, Biden showed that his talk about well-paying jobs, national energy security, environmental and social justice, and addressing the “climate crisis” is completely without action. Environmentalist zealots, not rational Americans, are the most important people in the country to his administration.
Full development in the Coastal Plain could bring over 60,000 jobs to Alaska, as well as up to $50 billion in royalty payments to various government agencies. With the area estimated to hold between 5 billion and 11 billion barrels of recoverable oil, as well as untold billions of cubic feet of natural gas, it could fill for decades gaps between domestic supply and ever-growing demand.
Development of the wildlife refuge is strongly supported by Alaskans, including the Inupiat Eskimos living closest to — and even, in the case of the village of Kaktovik, inside the boundaries of — the Coastal Plain.
Oil and gas not only creates hundreds of jobs for villagers across the North Slope of the state, but royalty payments to local government have facilitated First World living conditions, a stark contrast to regions of Alaska without significant job opportunities.
Sen. Dan Sullivan, Alaska Republican, has tracked ongoing attacks on industry and opportunity, noting that this was the 55th executive order targeting the state’s resource projects.
Many of those projects, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, directly affect predominantly Native villages and residents who support the chance to work, live and play in their traditional and ancestral areas, rather than face outmigration to larger cities and towns.
Simply put, if the Biden Administration were truly concerned about giving Indigenous people a hand up, it would promote Alaska’s resource opportunities, not destroy them.
But Biden’s handlers and advisers want him to be reelected in November 2024. They know that recent decisions to allow oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico and to reauthorize development of Alaska’s Willow Project have damaged his credibility among environmental activists, a segment of the voting populace he can’t afford to lose.
It isn’t just failed energy policies that are hurting the president’s reelection prospects. Only 74% of Democrats support Biden’s candidacy, according to a recent poll. For a sitting president, that number is shocking, but even more so is the overall support, which hovers just below 40%. Polls show that he’s even losing to five of six leading Republican candidates in head-to-head matchups.
The numbers for Biden only get worse the deeper you dive, with polls showing that 58% of voters believe the economy has gotten worse over the past two years, whereas only 28% say it has gotten better, and nearly 3 in 4 say inflation is headed in the wrong direction.
Unless Biden can shift those numbers dramatically, he will be a one-term president.
In the face of this reality, it seems the Biden Administration’s plan is to double down on terrible decisions, hoping it will energize the president’s green supporters. Time will tell if their plan is right politically, but the facts are clear: Reelection is more important than Alaska and its working families right now.
And, if Biden is elected for another four years without the prospect of facing voters again, just imagine what he will do. The thought should make rational Americans shudder.
• Rick Whitbeck is Alaska state director for Power the Future, a national nonprofit organization that advocates American energy jobs. Email him at [email protected], and follow him on X @PTFAlaska.