At a Washington, D.C., event yesterday, Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) emphasized that resource development is key to the Defense Department’s new Arctic Strategy, and that President Obama’s ban on future offshore drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas will likely be rescinded by the new Trump Administration.
Delivering the keynote address at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a D.C.-based think tank, Sen. Sullivan criticized the Obama Administration’s December decision to designate 125 million acres of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas “indefinitely off limits” to federal offshore oil and gas leasing programs:
“In a unilateral decision, with no consultation with the Senate, or the Congress, or the members who live in the Arctic like myself, our own President said ‘All of these resources are going to be taken off the table. We’re not going to develop them.’ You could almost hear the Russians laughing.”
Considering how the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, invoked by the Obama Administration, requires local consultation, it is no wonder that Sen. Sullivan found the President’s decision “questionable” from a legal standpoint, and explained that discussions are under way with the Trump Administration to “reverse” the ban:
“We’ve had discussions with the incoming Trump Administration on not only the five year leasing program, but on what the President just did with regard to the designation of locking up both the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. My own view, and we’re looking at this hard, is the legal authority he had to do that is questionable. … So we’re looking at a whole host of ways to try to reverse that. And the fact that the Obama White House said that was indefinite – that’s ridiculous. Nothing is indefinite. … An outgoing president’s executive orders are never indefinite.”
Reflecting on recent Arctic policy, Sen. Sullivan lamented the Obama Administration’s refusal to consider the needs of the people of Alaska, which he called “the biggest failure of the past several years”:
“One thing that I think sometimes gets lost is, when we talk about the Arctic, the people who live there, they need to make a living. And I think if you look at the biggest failure of the past several years when it comes to the Arctic, is that government officials, particularly in the Obama administration, forgot about this element. … In some ways, we were seen as a kind of snow globe or green screen to make big announcements on the Arctic, but [with] no real focus or concerns or input from the very real families and people that live in the Arctic.”
After all, according to a poll that the Arctic Energy Center commissioned, 76 percent of Alaskans, and 72 percent of Alaska Natives, support offshore resource development in the Arctic.
Finally, Sen. Sullivan explained that America’s ability to produce domestic energy in the Arctic will play a key component in the Pentagon’s new Arctic military strategy, due for release shortly, which he worked to develop alongside Pentagon officials. The new strategy aims to rectify America’s tactical disadvantages in the Arctic, especially when contrasted with Russia’s sizable military capabilities and assets in the region. Energy, as Sen. Sullivan noted, has a critical role to play:
“Energy can play a fundamental role as an instrument of American power, diplomacy, and national security, and I’m certainly hopeful that the Trump Administration seems to understand the importance of the Arctic, including its energy potential.”