U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, addresses a joint session of the Alaska Legislature on Wednesday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, addresses a joint session of the Alaska Legislature on Wednesday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Sullivan touts new ocean cleanup headquarters in Juneau, attacks Biden in annual speech to legislators

Senator calls Trump “the best president ever” for Alaska, has harsh words for Iran and migrants

A new headquarters in Juneau for a national ocean cleanup foundation, a pledge efforts are ongoing to home port a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker here and claiming Donald Trump was “the best president ever in terms of our ability to get things done for our state” were among the comments made by U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan during his annual visit Wednesday to the Alaska State Capitol.

Sullivan, delivering his annual address to the Alaska Legislature six days after U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s speech to state lawmakers, took a markedly different approach by repeatedly attacking President Joe Biden’s administration for a “Last Frontier lockup.” The senator’s staff, before his speech, distributed fliers to all lawmakers and the press citing “56 executive orders and actions targeting Alaska” by the Biden administration.

“There’s no other state that gets singled out like this,” Sullivan said during his address to lawmakers. “I handed a version of this chart to the president when we met with him — the congressional delegation — last March when we were in the Oval Office meeting on the Willow project. I told him, respectfully: ‘Mr. President, this is wrong. No state should be targeted like this and we need a ceasefire in the war against Alaska.’”

Among the items on the list was the revival of the so-called Roadless Rule in the Tongass National Forest early last year, expanding the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area by 4,500 acres in 2021, and announcing an intention to block all oil and gas leasing in the Arctic Ocean.

But Sullivan, like Murkowski, also highlighted what he called victories achieved by the state during the past year — with help from Alaska’s congressional delegation — such as the approval of the Willow oil field project on the North Slope and a ban on Russian seafood imports. He also focused on issues such as national defense, energy production and costs, fisheries, and what he called a link between illegal immigration and fentanyl overdose deaths.

The most significant announcement affecting Juneau was a headquarters for the congressionally-chartered Marine Debris Foundation will be established here. The foundation, included in a recently approved amendment to the 2020 Save Our Seas 2.0 Act that was co-sponsored by Sullivan, “has enormous potential to bring innovative private sector funds and ideas to ocean cleanup,” he said.

The foundation assists “state, local, and tribal governments, foreign governments, organizations, and individuals in mitigation efforts and support other federal actions to reduce marine debris,” including accepting and administering private funds for that purpose, according to a statement issued by Sullivan’s office.

Sullivan, during his speech, said he spent two years trying to establish a headquarters for the foundation in Alaska.

“Today, I am very pleased to announce that it will be, actually right down the road at an ideal place: the Juneau campus of UAF’s College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences and the UAS campus, which already do great ocean-oriented research,” he said.

“There are only a few congressionally-chartered foundations and they have a strong history of becoming important, large enterprises that can employ thousands. Think the American Red Cross, the American Legion, the National Parks Foundation,” Sullivan added. He said the new headquarters, combined with related existing regional and Arctic programs, means “the sky is literally the limit on Alaska becoming a world-class research hub, positively impacting our economy and providing opportunities for the next generation for years to come.”

Sullivan also briefly referred in his speech to plans to station an icebreaker in Juneau to expand the Coast Guard’s capabilities in the Arctic. The proposal involves both the purchase of a suitable private vessel as well as constructing infrastructure to support crew members and their families, but funding for it was stripped at the last minute from the federal budget in late 2022. Officials have stated during the past year such a vessel now likely won’t be available and ready for service for at least a couple of years.

During a press conference after his speech, Sullivan said a transfer of land to the Coast Guard from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for necessary infrastructure was in a bill last June “so that’s progress.” He said requests for the infrastructure funding in the upcoming budget process, as well as efforts to purchase the vessel, are still pending.

With a presidential election looming, Murkowski said last week she considers both Trump and Biden seriously flawed candidates, and is holding out hope for “a stunning come-from-behind” effort by Republican challenger Nikki Haley. Sullivan had no such reservations when asked during his press conference about the two presumptive major party nominees.

“I think President Trump’s record on Alaska has been fantastic,” Sullivan said. “My new best president ever in terms of our ability to get things done for our state than any other Republican president, (and) certainly better than these guys who are trying to shut down and lock up our state.”

Sullivan also made a provocative remark during his speech about Iran, suggesting the U.S. should sink Iranian ships if they continue supporting attacks by Yemeni rebels on U.S.-owned vessels involved in cargo shipments in the Red Sea.

“My suggestion for the (Biden) administration is just give the Iranians one warning: ‘The next time a missile comes to try to kill American sailors, and you’re giving intel to the Houthis, we will sink your navy,’” he said. “We could sink the Iranian Navy in about two hours. And my view is we should do it.”

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

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