Firth River runs through the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (Courtesy Photo | U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Firth River runs through the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (Courtesy Photo | U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Opinion: How Trump’s failures became a story about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

It’s a disturbing trend.

  • Friday, May 22, 2020 10:43am
  • Opinion

A month ago, Sen. Dan Sullivan told Stuart Varney on the Fox Business Network that “National Democrats have become irrationally unhinged in their hostility toward the energy sector.” He thinks they “really want Russia to be the world’s energy superpower.” And helping them along are some of America’s largest banks that are “discriminating against the oil and gas sector.”

There’s a kernel of truth to Sullivan’s alarmist accusations. But his timing suggests it’s a story intended to distract people from the serious damage President Donald Trump is inflicting on the country and our constitutional democracy.

Let’s start with what he got right. In early February, 15 Democratic senators sent a letter to 11 major banks asking them to end “funding for oil and gas drilling or exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.” A few weeks later, 33 Democrats in the House sent a similar one.

Between truth and fiction are two wild exaggerations. One-fifth of congressional Democrats doesn’t define the agenda of the national party. And opposing drilling in ANWR doesn’t translate to hostility against the entire energy sector.

Sullivan would also like you to believe the banks “have chosen this moment of national crisis” to hurt the oil and gas industry and the Americans they employ. But most of them acted before the coronavirus pandemic began to ravage the economy.

[Opinion: The media Alaskans trusted]

From 2017 to 2019, bank executives in 11 other countries decided to stop funding Arctic oil development. Barclays, a U.K. investment bank, was the first to specifically rule out projects in ANWR.

Last December, Goldman Sachs became the first American bank to implement that policy. Sullivan’s office put out 20 press releases that month. But not one of them mentions that.

He was silent two months later when JP Morgan became the second. After Wells Fargo joined them on March 3, he called it a “disturbing trend.”

On March 7, USB Bank jumped onboard. Three days later, Trump told Americans his administration was “doing a great job” managing the coronavirus problem. “Just stay calm” he said. “It will go away.”

So it’s nonsense to accuse those bank CEO’s of knowing America was in the midst of a public health emergency while the president was doing nothing about it.

As the pandemic grew, OPEC sought to stabilize the oil market by cutting production. But Saudi Arabia responded to Russia’s refusal to cooperate by increasing theirs.

On March 16, Sullivan co-authored a letter to the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, urging him to halt production. The prince is the same unsavory character who U.S. intelligence agencies determined ordered the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018. The Senate passed a unanimous resolution supporting that finding. But Trump disagreed, so nothing more came of it.

And last spring, Congress passed a resolution to end U.S. support for the Saudi war in Yemen. But Trump vetoed it.

The crown prince knows Trump sided with him both times because he’s not accountable to a Congress where only a few Republicans possess the courage to criticize him.

Which brings me to the next chapter. A few days before Sullivan went on Varney’s show, Citigroup added its name to the list of banks that won’t fund Arctic oil development. But the more notable story was about Dr. Richard Bright. He is the former national director overseeing development of a vaccine for the coronavirus, who claimed he been demoted for stating opposition to the unproven drugs Trump frequently promotes.

The Acting Inspector General for Health and Human Services understands what happened to Bright. In April, she issued a report stating the pandemic response was hampered by “severe shortages” of testing kits and “widespread shortages” of masks. And lost her job on May 1.

Last weekend, Trump fired the fifth inspector general since April 3. Sen. Mitch Romney,R-Utah, called the actions “unprecedented,” and said it undermines “the independence essential to their purpose,” and should be taken as “a threat to accountable democracy and a fissure in the constitutional balance of power.”

But from Sullivan’s perspective, political courage is finding a way to hide Trump’s messes.

This time by concocting a phony narrative about big bank decisions related to ANWR. It’s a disturbing trend for which he deserves to be voted out of office in November.


Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident and retired civil engineer with more than 25 years of experience working in the public sector. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.


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