SPEECH: Remarks at the RDC’s 2020 Alaska Resources Conference
“Interesting Times: Resource Development in Alaska Post-2020”
Thank you, Mike. It’s good to be with all of you. Appreciate it. When you think about opportunities in our state, so much of the conversation comes back to resources and those at the RDC, the Resource Development Council, are in the thick of what is happening with regards to our state’s economy. So I just want to thank all of you but I also want to do a special shout-out to the team there at RDC, those of you on the board, great and important work that you do.
I know we would all much rather be there in person, exchanging all kinds of different greetings, but we’re demonstrating what it means to be “Alaska tough” and Alaska resilient, and our lives are relegated to these Zoom meetings, but we’re still getting the message across. Part of my message is one of thanks and congratulations to you, to all who worked so hard to make sure our fiscal regime remains stable in the state, which is probably more important now than ever. To those who led the OneAlaska group, to Kara, to so many of you there who worked so hard to make sure that Alaska remains competitive in the global markets, thank you for making your voices heard on Ballot Measure One. Greatly appreciate it.
I think when Marleanna asked me what I wanted to speak to today, I said, let’s title this “Interesting Times; Interesting Times in Resource Development in Alaska.” And we know that the old Chinese saying, “May you live in interesting times,” I think it was maybe meant to be a nice thing, but it’s actually from an ancient curse. And it sometimes feels like maybe that’s what we’re living in right now is these interesting times.
But before we talk about, or what I talk about what lies ahead, I want to spend just a few minutes looking back. Many of you know that this is my final year as chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. On the Republican side, we have term limits of six years to serve as both the Chair and six years as the Ranking, and I have completed six and six, so a total of 12 years in leadership on the committee. And we’ve got a lot to look back on and be proud of.
We had some significant successes in 2015 and 2016, when I first came on as Chairman. Really, one of the highlights was lifting the domestic crude oil export ban that had been in place for some 40 years, and which has now led to the United States being in a world position in the global markets. We passed a bill during that time to revitalize our nation’s energy policy, we moved it through the Senate with 85 votes. We brought attention to our mineral security, and we even convinced the Obama administration to approve a conditional export license for our Alaska gasline project.
Then in 2017, we got some pretty strong partners in the form of President Trump and his team –Ryan Zinke, David Bernhardt, and they brought on some great Alaskans like Joe Balash, Chad Padgett, Steve Wackowski, Tara Sweeney—great Alaskans who know our state well and when you have people in positions like this in the administration who know us, understand us and work with us, it was a good place to be. From day one, the Trump administration helped us accomplish many of our long-held priorities. As a result of I think my position on the committee as chair and the strong positions that are held by Dan and Don we were able to form the type of partnership that Alaska hasn’t seen for quite a while and we worked together to make some real significant strides in just about every area of resource production and land management, and I think our state is in a better place because of it. And given, again, that we’re living through 2020, these are important for having placed us in a better spot.
Oil and Gas
First off, ANWR. We’ve been trying for ANWR for 40 years, and with this administration, we’ve been successful with it. You’ve all seen the “call for nominations” that printed yesterday in the Federal Register. So what that means is the Department of the Interior is on track to now hold the first lease sale in the 1002 Area in mid-January. We, like I said, opening it to exploration and responsible development has been a decades-long battle, a generational battle, and finally won it in 2017, and so getting that Record of Decision was a historic milestone.
Over in the NPR-A, the Willow Master Development Plan got its ROD late last month. That project is one that could put hundreds of Alaskans back to work, generate more than 160,000 barrels of daily throughput for TAPS. Big shoutout and congratulations goes to ConocoPhillips and their team for the hard work they put in in obtaining these permits, and for their efforts to address community concerns throughout the process. They did a great job there.
The Trump administration is also working with us to update the highly restrictive Integrated Activity Plan for the NPR-A, which placed over half of the petroleum reserve off-limits to leasing and development. BLM has released a final EIS for the new plan, they did that in June, and included a preferred alternative that would make over 80 percent of the acreage in the NPR-A available for leasing, so we hope to see that put into effect as soon as possible.
We’ve also landed significant federal permits for major projects on state land. You’ve got the Pikka project; they got its Army Corps approval in May 2019. Fully permitted projects are putting us one step closer to re-energizing our economy for decades to come, and I know Oil Search is working hard to begin new development there.
All of this means real, long-term benefits for our state. The federal Energy Information Administration, the EIA, they’ve recognized this. They’ve revised their projections for Alaska’s oil production from 2031 to 2050 upward, and they’ve revised it upward by 90 percent. They did that last year. Just think about that. That’s a 90 percent upward revision. And that coincided with IHS Markit declaring the North Slope to once again be a “super basin.” So it is well recognized Outside, Alaska’s potential.
We also secured a major asset for the State ka in the form of the more than 70 federal permits that were issued to the Alaska LNG project, including the very, very critical FERC authorization. My team and I worked to ensure that the regulatory agencies prioritized these reviews. These probably were some of the most comprehensive that have ever prepared. I think the project is increasingly competitive and attractive. We’ve got leaders like Bill Walker and Mead Treadwell, who are keeping their “foot on the gas” with new and innovative ideas. And we thank them.
So moving from oil and gas, let’s talk about what (got a note here saying ‘start my video’), so down in the Tongass, Alaskans now have greater access to the Tongass National Forest, thanks to Forest Service decision to provide a full exemption from the 2001 Roadless Rule. This should never have applied to Alaska but now Southeast communities are going to have more options to build sustainable economies. We’re going to have better access to affordable energy to power their homes and their schools and businesses, reducing those energy costs; the ability to implement broadband technology at a time when more are logging online for health care, for education, for work; and of course new options for transportation and recreation to promote jobs and economic activities.
We’ve seen time and time and again in Alaska that we can balance responsible resource development with good stewardship of our lands and our waters. Despite some of the criticisms that we see about the Roadless exemption, that will absolutely remain the case in the Tongass. We know that.
Another area where we’ve made good strong progress is on mining. My team and I have been working closely with the administration to make this a priority issue for the country. We know—you hear it all the time—our growing, our ever growing reliance on foreign minerals and the massive vulnerabilities that that really creates.
So, we’ve come a long way, but we need to back administrative action with meaningful legislation. I think it was mentioned that my bipartisan American Minerals Security Act that we filed—it’s now been included in two Republican coronavirus relief recovery packages. It remains on the table right now in our year-end negotiations. And it’s because there is this recognition that this is a significant vulnerability we need to address.
This isn’t rocket science here. What we need to be doing is improving our mapping, our resource assessments, and especially the permitting. We’ve got to look at new options to help finance key projects, cut harmful delays, and invest in a strong mining workforce. And that workforce is so, so important.
But I don’t have to tell this group that other countries understand the importance of minerals, and they’re working to consolidate control of their supply chains. And yet in this country, we have some who are working to lock up and shut down the mining sector. So what I’m going to continue to stress is that Alaska can and will be at the center of it all. We’ve got an incredible mineral base, we’ve got viable deposits of nearly every mineral that’s critical to our economy, to our national security, and to our international competitiveness.
Global demand is just going up, projected to increase dramatically in the years ahead. And we’ve got projects – like Graphite One, Donlin, Donlin Gold, Bokan Mountain, the Palmer project, we’ve got the Ambler Access Project. We know that these can produce the minerals needed to meet it and to build everything from electric vehicles to semiconductors.
So, while we’re talking about mining, I know that many of you are disappointed by my opposition to the Pebble project. I have always, and will defend, the process – ensuring that Pebble could submit an application rather than being preemptively vetoed by a federal agency. That was, it was absolutely imperative that that be allowed and advanced. But as you know my concerns about the project remain very real.
And this is not the place that I planned to wind up, but given everything that has come to light during this considerable review process, I have reached the same conclusion that Ted Stevens did many years ago: that this is the wrong mine in the wrong place.
And this is the only project—I will remind folks—this the only project that I have opposed in Alaska during my time here in the Senate. Where I have come down is that Pebble cannot be permitted, according to now multiple administrations. And I think that the Army Corps should deny its permit application within the scope of its normal process, rather than setting the stage for an EPA veto that would set a dangerous precedent for the state.
So I’m wrapping up here, because I know I’ve taken a great deal of time but I want to just briefly speak to some other lands issues. It’s been about 18 months now since we passed probably “the single most important public lands management law to be passed in over a decade”—that’s not my words; that’s what the Department of Interior billed it. That was a significant measure—more than 120 public lands, natural resources, and water bills. And Alaska priorities were included within it.
But Dan and Don and I worked closely to add a provision to ensure that our Alaska Native veterans who missed the deadline to apply for land claims because they were serving their country during the Vietnam War; that they were able to receive that benefit. Other provisions were critical for Alaska sportsmen. We also ensured that the Alaska gasline could be routed through Denali.
So we have with the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, which was signed into law just a couple months back, we have now an opportunity and a way to address long-standing deferred maintenance backlogs. That’s going to be particularly important as we seek a long-term fix for the Denali Park Road and for other efforts to improve facilities in our parks, in our forests, and in our refuges across our state.
So, so, now kind of going forward, if I may. Again, I want to conclude my remarks and see if we have some time for questions. Serving on the committee as the Chairman now has been the honor and privilege of a lifetime. I’m still serving on the committee, I will continue to do that. Senator Barrasso from Wyoming will be taking over as the Chairman, and I’ll be serving as his Number 2. But I’m thinking about what lies ahead.
By all accounts, Joe Biden is our President-elect. I’ve offered my congratulations. It’s a near-certainty that he’s going to be taking office on January 20, 2021. And if he follows through on some of his campaign promises, that can mean potentially some changes, and perhaps some sweeping changes for energy and environmental regulation.
I have had a good working relationship with both Joe Biden, when he was here in the Senate, and Senator Harris. I certainly will work with them to do what is right for Alaska—as I have with all administrations. But I am also acutely aware that I’m not always going to agree with them, especially if their actions are harmful to Alaska and to our interests.
So as their transition team is taking shape, I know there is significant apprehension about what may be in store for resource producers. So as we’re having these early conversations with those individuals, you can be assured that we’re keeping all of you in mind, we’re stressing how important it is for the new administration to work in a manner like we saw with the Trump administration, where Alaska is at the table rather than being on the menu.
But going forward, we’re going to need to work together on a daily basis, closer than ever before. And as we move into next year, know that my team and I will be working with you as we vet nominees, as we renew our vigilance about the actions being taken by the administration, and most crucially, to protect the gains we’ve made during this Trump administration.
We know we can expect to hear a lot more about climate change and greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years. And I don’t think we should be afraid of that conversation—but I do think that we need to be ready for it. I think we need to thoughtfully engage on meaningful ways to reduce our emissions, while fighting the policies that just take it too far. Recognizing that the benefits of oil and gas production, setting aside what it means for our economy and our treasury, our supply also has real emissions advantages. We don’t flare our gas, for the most part we produce from mostly conventional resources, our operations are subject to stringent and ever-improving regulatory standards, so we have a good story to tell there and it should be told.
I’m also going to be reminding my colleagues that no conversation about clean energy or any other industry of the future is complete without a real discussion of the mineral requirements that are needed to make those technologies into broad-scale realities. That’s just a fact.
So if the new administration is to achieve its goals, it’s going to need to partner with Alaska, rather than treating us like some kind of a snow globe sitting up on a shelf or one giant national park or one big wildlife refuge. So let’s show them that our minerals must be part of the solution, that our oil and gas industry can lead in carbon management, that we can harness the power of our renewables, and that a stronger Alaskan economy means a stronger American economy.
We’ve been through “interesting times” before. We don’t always relish them. But we will kind of have to dig deeper, band closer. But we also know we can make our way through – and my goal is to find ways to emerge better and stronger than before.
Thank you again for all that you do for our state, for our state’s economy, for the opportunity to be part of this conversation. To all of you, stay safe and stay healthy. And, thanks again.
Mike: Thank you, Senator, for joining us today. We did lose you on video about halfway through there. You might want to re-toggle back. I didn’t want to interrupt you, but good to see you there again. We’ve got time for just a couple questions, and as you can imagine, your statements on Pebble popped up a few questions here in the chat. Basically, to summarize them, they sent around the fact that if the Corps of Engineers ruled that the company’s mitigation plan met the agency’s requirements, would that change your thinking on the project?
Murkowski: I have shared that I don’t see how a mitigation plan that, as outlined by the Corps in the letter to Pebble, I don’t see how that mitigation plan can be met. And having said that, the applicant has that opportunity, that 90-day period, that 90 days has now come and gone, they’ve submitted their plan. The Corps is reviewing that plan. My view on Pebble, I don’t think changes. I don’t see that this project in this place can be permitted. I’ve said that, and it’s a hard thing for me to say because I have not, I have not shied away from endorsing any of our resource projects around the state. I want to make sure that we have proper process but I have come down in a different position with Pebble, and I respect the process that has gone before us. I have encouraged it every step of the way, and have said, it needs to follow through. But I have to tell you. I’ll just be very honest with you. What we saw, what we all saw play out in those awful Pebble tapes was something that none of us should feel good or comfortable about. If you have those who are attempting to sell a project through I believe not only fabrications and truly a dishonest appraisal of their own project, I think we all should be concerned. I don’t think that does anybody else’s development project in the state any help at all.
Mike: Thanks. Thank you, Senator. Time for a couple quick more questions. You touched on this a little bit but what specifically do you think climate and energy legislation might look like under a Biden White House and a GOP-led Senate?
Murkowski: The key to that question is the very end of it because it would be a very different approach if you have a divided government. If you have a Republican majority in the Senate, you have the ability to set the agenda in committee, as Senator Barrasso will be doing with the gavel at ENR. But you also have the majority leader determining what legislation will actually come to the floor. So I think that is going to be important. I believe that if the two Georgia seats are lost and the Democrats have the majority in the Senate, I think you will have every effort to go as far left on environmental policies and on climate policies, as far as they possibly can. I believe they will think that this is their one window and their one chance and they will not be restrained because they will be able to roll over us. They will, I believe, take away those procedural breaks and mechanisms that we have by changing the rules to gain that shorter term advantage, and so I think that the real caution here is to have control of the Senate, and I have been encouraging people that if you want to look to just a good template to begin the conversation on how to reduce your emissions, look no further than our energy bill that is, it’s not just focusing on renewables, but it also leads in carbon capture utilization, carbon management, and moving forward on technologies and innovation that will allow us to reduce our emissions in a smart and responsible way but also bolstering our economy going into the future. So that’s a good template to begin with, and my hope is that we’re able to finish this off this year. So that we don’t have to go back to the drawing board with that legislation. And focus on what more we can build out. I think that technology is going to the key, and energy innovation is what you’re going to be looking for with a Republican majority in the Senate, with a divided government.
Mike: That makes a lot of sense. I would hope that in just looking at some of the other questions coming through here, when we look at innovations and energy, there’s still a recognition that coal is a very important building block of that especially in Interior Alaska.
Murkowski: I might add to that. You will have, as the Chair and the Ranking, Senator Barrasso from Wyoming, and Senator Manchin from West Virginia, so regardless of which one holds the gavel there, these are both key coal producing states, and so I don’t see a scenario where coal, anti-coal policy, moves through that committee. I think you will see a very concerted effort on the carbon management technologies—the CCUS and the innovation we see play out there.