For four years, Donald Trump’s detractors constantly used the term “erratic” when criticizing him and his administration. Now, nearly five months into the Biden era, it’s becoming difficult to discern where the new president wants to go on Alaska’s most precious commodity: energy production.
To begin, the administration started with a constant beat-down of Alaska’s energy sector, using day-one executive orders to halt oil and gas leasing on federal lands and in federal waters, shuttering future development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s 10-02 area, and putting on hold existing Public Land Orders that effectively shut down other resource opportunities. Last week, however, working hand-in-hand with the Alaska Congressional Delegation, the Biden administration seemed to genuinely care about our state.
So, credit where credit is due. Biden’s May 25 decision to sign legislation allowing cruise ships to bypass foreign ports of call this summer set the stage for Alaska’s tourism season to begin in July. Although truncated from the typical May-to-September timeframe, the return-to-cruising news was welcomed throughout the state, as passenger ship services provide economic lifelines for many smaller communities throughout Alaska. These are badly in need of resuscitation after a long year of COVID-19 lockdowns.
Then, unexpectedly, the White House announced the next day it would support oil and gas drilling in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska; specifically, ConocoPhillips’s Willow project. While environmental organizations exploded in dismay over the news, most Alaskans — who understand that the project’s 100,000 barrels per day potential for 30 years represents a tremendous economic and employment opportunity — welcomed the news, as it provided hope that is unmatched by any current near-term oil and gas development.
It was unclear why the Biden administration was loosening itself from the grip of eco-extremist organizations, whose mission to force a “just transition” from fossil fuels to “green” technologies had put Alaska’s energy workers in its crosshairs. But whatever the reason, it represented hope.
Then, much like the 6.1 magnitude earthquake that hit south-central Alaska this past weekend, Alaskans were reminded that tranquility is tenuous and short-lived at best.
The Tuesday after Memorial Day brought news that the Biden administration was canceling executed, approved, and paid-for leases in ANWR’s 10-02 area, under the guise of being rushed by the Trump administration. Conveniently overlooking the fact Congress set aside the 10-02 for oil and gas development more than 40 years ago, and congressional approval opened that area to leasing and development in 2017, the Biden team kowtowed to the extremists behind the “keep it in the ground” movement.
With a stroke of a pen, Biden shattered tens of thousands of potential jobs, along with hundreds of millions of dollars in annual state and federal revenues. Talk about two steps forward followed by a giant leap backward.
While reaction from Alaska’s state government and congressional leaders was swift and severe, it has so far fallen largely on deaf ears. Indeed, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland — an environmental zealot and favorite of the “just transition” movement — announced the suspension by citing the need for additional reviews.
The harm-Alaska, help-Alaska, and then harm-Alaska again actions from this administration have left many Alaskans wondering who is steering the ship on energy policy. What industry might be harmed or helped by Biden’s will-he-or-won’t-he actions next? Can any business feel comfortable investing in Alaska, given this administration’s complete disregard for legal and binding contracts?
Right now, the Biden agenda appears to have no definitive agenda and is being led by whichever voice is loudest in our chief executive’s head at any moment. The uncertainty is unsettling, making it impossible for those in the private sector to plan and throwing a wet blanket on future economic opportunities. That is a frightening proposition for our future.