SPEECH: Resource Development Council's Annual Meeting
Good afternoon, everyone. Ralph, thank you for that warm introduction. And thank you all for the invitation to be here today.
Let me start off by congratulating RDC on its 40th anniversary. For forty outstanding years, this organization has been a strong voice for Alaska’s core industries. That’s quite a feat, and our State has benefitted greatly from your work.
How about another round of applause for Senator Sullivan, as well? He’s only been in office for six months, but he’s already bringing results home for our State. His seat on the Environment and Public Works Committee is especially valuable, as it allows him to conduct intensive oversight of the EPA and its endless regulatory agenda.
Dan’s committee assignments are a perfect complement to my own, especially my position as Chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Our panel has jurisdiction over the Department of Energy, the Department of the Interior, and the Forest Service. Taken together, that gives us an Alaska-size footprint on the authorizing committees for both energy and environmental policy.
We also hold the purse strings for many of those agencies through my chairmanship of the Appropriations Subcommittee for Interior, Environment and Related Agencies. We have 30 members, but the gavel is in Alaska’s hands. Just as we finally return to regular order in the Senate, we have gained an incredible ability to shape those agencies’ actions.
Alaska is incredibly well-positioned on resource policy within the Senate right now – better than at any other time I can remember. But I’m also well aware that it isn’t just about the seats you hold – it’s about what you do, while you hold them.
And, boy, is there a lot to talk about on that front.
Chairing an Appropriations Subcommittee means that you get to write the annual spending bill for the agencies within its jurisdiction, but passing it from committee depends on gaining support from the members of the committee. With non-controversial agencies like EPA and Interior, crafting a bill my members can support should be easy, right?
That challenge, and a Senate led by Harry Reid, have kept an Interior appropriations bill from the Senate for too long. But we are getting back on track. Two weeks ago, I released a funding bill for Fiscal Year 2016 and moved it out of Committee. For the first time in six years, we now have a chance to bring congressional oversight back to those agencies.
There are a lot of reasons why Alaskans should like our bill.
For starters, we withheld funding for the implementation of the “Waters of the United States” – or “WOTUS” – rule, which is probably the largest federal land grab ever. We have heard a lot of talk from EPA about how they simply want to “clarify” the Clean Water Act, but the real goal of this rule is to make just about every project you can imagine subject to the burdensome requirements of that law.
For a state like ours, covered in wetlands and permafrost, WOTUS is a showstopper for new development. If implemented, the fallout will be more permits, more delays, more costs, and more headaches for all of you. This rule will make it harder for projects to proceed, and so we are trying to stop it in its tracks.
We also went after the President’s climate regulations. Regardless of how you feel about climate change, the EPA’s rules are just not good policy for our country. These regulations threaten to force the closure of one of our five largest power plants, and will increase energy prices for thousands of Alaskans.
If you ask me, we already pay enough for energy. We live in a cold State where reliable electricity is critical. So we said that if States want to comply with the “Clean Power Plan,” they can. But States like ours that have good reason to oppose this rule would be allowed to ignore it.
We also rejected EPA’s efforts to impose new bonding requirements on hardrock mines. At both the federal and state level, we have good programs in place to address these issues. Left alone, there is no telling what EPA would have done, or how many projects it would have halted.
Instead we added funding for geologic mapping in Alaska, which Deputy DNR Commissioner Ed Fogels recently testified would take 400 years to finish at current rates. We added funding to ensure that onshore oil and gas can be permitted in NPR-A and elsewhere in a more timely manner.
We also said enough is enough, and added a provision to ensure that King Cove finally gets its life-saving road. That community has seen 25 more medevacs since Secretary Jewell rejected the pleas of its people in December 2013. She has done nothing to help them since then, so we made an easy call: we took responsibility out of her hands and gave it to the State of Alaska.
At a time when more than 300 fires have been reported all across our state, we are seeking to provide 100 percent of the funding requested for preparedness and prevention efforts. Our bill would also make a total of $1.05 billion in emergency funding available, in case regular fire suppression funds are exhausted. And we are trying to put an end to “fire borrowing,” so that fighting fires doesn’t come at the expense of other important programs and mitigation.
I could go on and on about the Interior Appropriations bill – how we are enhancing access for sportsmen, the direction we gave the Forest Service to make good on their promise of timber sales in the Tongass, and to increase funding for recreation programs in the Tongass to support our tourism industry – but I also want to tell you about a parallel legislative effort that we are undertaking in the Energy Committee.
At the start of this year, we sat down and thought about what we wanted to accomplish there. One of my primary goals is to establish revenue sharing for Alaska from OCS development, but I knew moving that legislation would take a broad coalition. We need Democratic support to get to 60 votes in the Senate. That’s why I waited to introduce my revenue sharing bill as I built a coalition that today includes the Gulf and Mid-Atlantic states. Today we have three revenue sharing bills before the committee – including a bill sponsored by Democratic Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine from Virginia.
As Chair, I have also pushed the agencies and worked tirelessly to ensure Shell has the opportunity to conduct an exploration season this year. We are almost there. But as you’ve seen, opposition to reasonable development of American resources is strong and loud.
That is part of the reason that despite all of the sweeping changes in our energy landscape over the past decade, Congress has been remarkably absent on energy policy. The last time a broad bill was enacted was 2007. Our policies are increasingly out of date. Challenges have not been addressed; opportunities are being ignored.
It’s past time to modernize and reform our energy policies – from access, to mitigation, to permitting, and more. So I decided that it was time to write a new energy bill. I called on committee members and my colleagues to bring their ideas to the table. Between late April and early June, our committee held four legislative hearings featuring 114 separate energy bills.
We haven’t completed our final negotiations with our Democratic colleagues but we are negotiating. In a divided Senate, with President Obama still in the White House, I will continue to advance what I can. At this point, I believe we will have provisions that help businesses across Alaska improve their efficiency. We will have provisions to provide workforce training, which will be vital for our LNG line. And we are going to reform the hydropower licensing process.
We also expect to include my American Mineral Security Act. For all of the attention that our foreign oil dependence receives, virtually no one seems to notice that our foreign mineral dependence has spiked. The U.S. imports 100 percent of its supply of 19 separate mineral commodities, and more than 50 percent of at least 24 more. My bill would reform the permitting process, require more geological surveying, and help attract investment in Alaska from companies looking to produce more of our world-class mineral base.
We are trying to work across the aisle because my goal is to assemble a bill that can be signed into law, not to conduct a messaging exercise. Whether that is possible remains to be seen. Our next step is to circulate Chairman’s marks, which you will see in the coming weeks.
I’m also aware that some members just do not believe Alaska – or other states – should be allowed to produce their energy. So I want to close by discussing two additional areas that demand our attention.
The first is the Arctic. It’s an opportunity for us, and a big one. The United States is chairing the Arctic Council for the next two years. I’ve started an Arctic Caucus in the Senate, along with Senator Angus King of Maine. Those efforts will help raise awareness of our Arctic needs. But at this point, our federal government is still lagging far behind other nations.
If you had to guess how many heavy icebreakers we have, you probably wouldn’t guess one. If you had to guess where it will spend the next five years, you probably wouldn’t think Antarctica. But that’s what we are facing. Russia, meanwhile, has 11 icebreakers in operation – with six more under construction, and plans for five more beyond that.
Instead of looking at the Arctic as an economic opportunity, all we hear from administration officials is talk of environmental threats. We hear about climate change, but not resource potential or even cultural values. We need to change that mindset, before it turns into ground rules that hold back development. We need to change that, so that old friends – like the people of Seattle – don’t turn their backs based on bad logic.
The second area that we need to be prepared for is the next administration. We already had a taste of what a hostile administration can do, when President Obama locked away 22 million acres of our lands over a span of just a couple of days at the start of this year. He didn’t care that his actions were against the will of the vast majority of Alaskans. The worst outcomes – like an ANWR wilderness bill – have no chance of passing in this Congress. But a new administration will bring new plans, and much of what we have seen presented so far is not good.
Martin O’Malley recently announced that he would cancel Shell’s offshore permits to drill in the Arctic, perhaps on his very first day in office. And Senator Chuck Schumer – the majority leader in waiting, if Republicans lose the Senate – said last week that he sees a path for Hillary Clinton to impose a carbon tax.
Those are serious threats to our people and our prosperity. In addition to dealing with the current administration, we need to be planning – starting now – for 2017. We need to make a list of what is needed from a friendly administration, and what we think will need to be defended against one that is not.
I am laying the groundwork for this through legislation and hearings. For example, when we go back to Washington, DC, I will convene a hearing on mitigation requirements, which – as many of you know firsthand – often amount to borderline extortion in Alaska. This is one of many areas where Alaskans need to be heard, and I am grateful to all of you for working with me to be sure that happens.
We have our work cut out for us. But at the end of the day, it’s worth it. Alaska has almost limitless resource potential. Think of all the jobs, revenues, security, and prosperity their development can bring. That’s why we care; that’s why we fight; and that’s why we will ultimately persevere. The rest of our nation – and the rest of the world – need the resources that you produce.
Thank you again for the opportunity to be here today.