By RICK WHITBECK | POWER THE FUTURE
Not all attention is good attention, and when it comes to Joe Biden and Alaska, the attention we get is anything but good. The Biden administration makes so many trips to our state that perhaps it’s time we tell them we just want to be friends.
In 2023 alone, we’ve seen the president visit twice. There’s also been five department secretaries or administrators come through the state, along with at least 50 more executive branch officials. The most recent was Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, who spoke at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention in Anchorage last week.
This begs the obvious question: Why so much attention being shown to our state? A simple answer would be the wooing of moderate U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who has shown a willingness to work across the aisle. However, there could be another reason altogether.
There’s a theory more in line with Team Biden’s usual strategy: By showing up and pretending to care about Alaska and Alaskans, the administration can continue to make policy decisions that harm our state and nation while giving itself political cover. After a number of these official visits, we’ve seen delays and obstruction on Alaska’s development projects, with Haaland’s Interior Department the most egregious offender, but far from the only one.
Since taking office, Biden and his team have amassed a list of nearly 60 executive orders and actions targeting Alaska’s resource development industries, including more than a dozen in 2023 alone.
In January, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a preemptive veto on Alaska’s trillion-dollar Pebble mine and its world-class copper deposit; that decision was immediately challenged in court. This came after numerous EPA leadership visits throughout 2022, endangering the nation’s largest untapped source of copper, which is needed for Biden’s “green revolution.”
In March, the Department of Interior pulled back from a land exchange that would have allowed a road to be built — and lives to be saved in emergency situations — between the Native villages of King Cove and Cold Bay. This followed Haaland’s visits to both communities in April of 2022, where she voiced understanding for the communities’ full-throated support for the road, agreeing to ‘find a way to proceed.’
Also in March was the trade-off of not only a 60%-of-original, scaled-back Willow oil and gas project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, aka NPR-A, but a moratorium of development activity for 15.8 million acres of on-shore and off-shore areas in and around NPR-A. These actions — again from Haaland’s Department of Interior — directly overrode previous presidential authority for the NPR-A development and congressional authorization of guaranteed access for developers to the area.
In September, Haaland ordered a full-stop cancellation of contracted leases in the “1002 Area” of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR, an area specifically authorized for development by Congress in its 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
This month, the Interior Department struck once again, releasing a substantively different environmental impact statement for the road to the Ambler Mining District, putting the congressionally authorized and mandated-access road to an area flush with copper, strategic and critical minerals on unstable footing. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s August 2022 visit to the state, and days spent with our fully supportive federal delegation, did little to sway his or Haaland’s dismissal of congressional authority.
Even Secretary Haaland’s appearance last week missed a golden opportunity to expand on the administration’s energy goals. In a 15-minute speech, she mentioned resource or energy policies in two sentences; this while speaking to hundreds of Alaskans who, by and large, have their living conditions better now than at any time in Alaska’s history, with regional resource development opportunities the main driver for their advancements.
For all the messaging from Biden and his team about securing domestic supplies of components and materials to electrify the grid and save the planet from the “climate crisis,” his actions in Alaska fail time and again to back up the bluster and walk the talk.
Sending high-ranking administrative officials back and forth between Washington, D.C., and Alaska only adds to the government’s carbon footprint, with little help for our country to show from their jet-setting activities.
Rick Whitbeck is Alaska state director for Power The Future, a national nonprofit organization that advocates American energy jobs.