U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan addresses a joint session of the Alaska State Legislature in the House chambers on Tuesday. The Republican senator, appearing on the same day as Democratic President Joe Biden’s State of the Union speech (and thus absent from it), criticized the administration on issues ranging from drugs to opposing resource development in Alaska. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan addresses a joint session of the Alaska State Legislature in the House chambers on Tuesday. The Republican senator, appearing on the same day as Democratic President Joe Biden’s State of the Union speech (and thus absent from it), criticized the administration on issues ranging from drugs to opposing resource development in Alaska. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Sullivan applauds, denounces feds in speech to Legislature

Senator praises ferry funds and monitoring of China’s balloon, fears Biden limiting oil project.

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan opted to deliver his own speech to the Alaska State Legislature and skip President Joe Biden’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday, but the Democratic president was much on the Republican senator’s mind as he talked about what he called the administration’s “war on Alaska.”

Sullivan, in his annual speech to a joint session of the state House and Senate early during the session, emphasized the importance of Alaska resource projects such as the pending Willow oil field on the North Slope while attacking Biden for “begging” for imported oil from “terrorist” Venezuela.

The senator, in office since 2015, also used his speech to attribute an increase in drug overdoses to “open borders” and place the blame on social media for an increase in youth suicides.

Members of the Alaska State Legislature listen to U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan’s annual speech in the House chamber on Tuesday. He asked the legislature to approve a resolution supporting the Willow oil project on the north slope, which House Speaker Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, said she’s likely to introduce within a week. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Members of the Alaska State Legislature listen to U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan’s annual speech in the House chamber on Tuesday. He asked the legislature to approve a resolution supporting the Willow oil project on the north slope, which House Speaker Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, said she’s likely to introduce within a week. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Sullivan also confidentially told the joint session a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker will be home ported in Juneau, one of his apparent crowning achievements last year until a supposedly done deal fell apart at the last moment.

Federal actions were both the ultimate heroism and villainy of Sullivan’s speech, with both invoked on the same issue at times.

The Willow Project, for instance, got preliminary approval last week by the Biden administration, which Sullivan called as significant as opening Prudhoe Bay because it will mean thousands of jobs, billions in revenue and the ability to free the U.S. and allies from importing oil from questionable countries.

“This is not some dream,” Sullivan said near the beginning of his speech. “This is on the cusp of happening right now.”

But the senator also blasted the Biden administration because the approval following a required environmental review recommends a smaller footprint than ConocoPhillips as the leaseholder is seeking, and there are concerns the size may be reduced further. The oil company sought five drill pads, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management recommended three be allowed with a possible fourth later, but Sullivan expressed concerns about the Biden administration reducing the footprint to two pads, which the Republican said would be economically unviable.

He also predicts lawsuits from what he called radical environmental entities are likely if the development on the project begins and voiced suspicions the Biden administration is sympathetic to the environmentalists.

“This project is very far from getting a final approval,” Sullivan said toward the end of his speech. “The stakes for Alaska and America are huge.”

An official record of decision about the project is issued a minimum of 30 days after the Bureau of Land Management’s preliminary recommendation. Sullivan asked the Legislature to approve a resolution before then supporting an economically viable Willow project. House Speaker Cathy Tilton, a Wasilla Republican, said following the speech she expects such a resolution to be introduced within a week.

A multitude of other actions by Biden were criticized by Sullivan as harmful to Alaska, such as reinstating the Roadless Rule in the Tongass National Forest. The senator repeated a claim he and other Republicans have made that Biden has issued 44 executive orders and decisions specific to Alaska, more than any other state.

“Who knows — maybe the president will announce his support of the Willow Project tonight in his State of the Union and that he’s ending his war on Alaska, but I’m not holding my breath,” Sullivan said.

Biden will emphasize a “unity agenda” in the speech, according to a White House statement issued Tuesday, but Sullivan told the joint session of state lawmakers he has no desire to be in Washington, D.C., to hear the address.

“In all due respect to the president I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world, with people who really matter and with Alaska’s brand of informality,” he said.

Among the other in-state resource efforts highlighted by Sullivan were natural gas and precious minerals, accusing Russia and China of hostile actions which should motivate the U.S. and its allies to stop relying on them as suppliers.

The topic also offered Sullivan a chance to criticize Biden and China for a much-publicized balloon from that country that flew over the U.S. during the past week before it was shot down above Atlantic Ocean. But in continuing the federal good/bad guy theme, the senator praised military and other federal officials in Alaska who spotted it early above the state and continued tracking it.

“Our men and women at the Alaska command did an exceptional job,” he said. “They were tackling this, they gave status updates to National Command Authority very early on, way before it was making any news.”

More federal-level kudos was expressed for the large amount of funding secured for the state via legislation such as the bipartisan infrastructure bill from late 2021 and military spending in the omnibus budget passed late last year (although he voted against the latter, despite praising some of its contents). He noted nearly $300 million to upgrade ferry service in Southeast Alaska was recently announced as part of the infrastructure funding, along with declaring “one of the most transformative issues is the focus on federal broadband dollars and connectivity for our state.”

“We will be getting billions for communities without internet connectivity,” he said. “Unfortunately we were number one in that.”

The infrastructure funds are being distributed over a five-year period, and Sullivan, echoing what many state lawmakers have said about needing to be diligent in maximizing Alaska’s share, stated “coordination is the key.”

“The critical player is going to be the state and all of you,” he said. “We need to be good stewards of these funds, but this is an enormous opportunity for Alaska.”

• Contact reporter Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com

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