President Donald Trump said late Friday that he expected to issue a permit for a rail line connecting Alaska and Canada, citing the influence of two members of Alaska’s congressional delegation on his decision.
“Based on the strong recommendation of @SenDanSullivan and @repdonyoung of the Great State of Alaska, it is my honor to inform you that I will be issuing a Presidential Permit for the A2A Cross-Border Rail between Alaska & Canada. Congratulations to the people of Alaska & Canada!” the president tweeted Friday around 8 p.m. Alaska time.
The 1,600-mile railroad line would connect Alaska to both Canada and the Lower 48 and would cut down on the time it takes to get products between Asia and North America, according to Mead Treadwell, Alaska vice chair with the company proposing the project, Alaska to Alberta Railway.
Treadwell called the president’s announcement a “wonderful surprise” and said a presidential permit would boost investor confidence for the project to spend more money on detailed engineering and environmental reviews.
The proposed rail route would run from Interior Alaska through the Yukon and into Alberta. Trains would carry various commodities, like bitumen, grain, fertilizer, pipe, containers and sulfur as well as passengers, Treadwell said.
“President Trump reached out to Senator Sullivan yesterday to get his view, as well as the view of other Alaskans, on the A2A project," said a statement Saturday from the office of Republican U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan.
Sullivan’s office also said the project could expand the state’s transportation system, create jobs, lower food costs and “provide greater security for food and supplies.”
In a statement provided by Republican U.S. Rep. Don Young’s press secretary, Zack Brown, Young said he’s been working with the White House on the project this year.
“This endeavor will strengthen our country’s already close relationship with Canada and allow us to work hand-in-hand to responsibly develop our resources," Young said in the statement. "The Presidential Permit means this project, and the economic potential it brings, can move forward.”
Both Young and Sullivan are running for re-election this year.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy, through a statement provided by spokesman Jeff Turner, said “a rail link with Canada and the rest of the country has been a dream for many generations.”
He called the permit “a major milestone,” and said Southcentral Alaska could become an “additional port of the Pacific and world for provinces such as Alberta and Midwestern states.”
The governor sent a letter to the Trump administration asking for a presidential permit for the project in February 2019.
“Mr. President, Alaska has long sought better surface connections to the Lower 48 states,” Dunleavy said in the letter, acquired by Anchorage Daily News through a public records request to Dunleavy’s office.
Turner said Saturday that the Dunleavy administration was in “constant contact” with the White House regarding the railway, and said “there’s been discussions going on continuously.”
State Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, was the only legislator to vote against a May 2019 Alaska House resolution encouraging the issuance of the presidential permit. Hannan said it’s not that she was against the railroad itself, but rather what the rail cars might carry: Alberta’s tar sands oil.
“I don’t think we should be encouraging those oil developments because they’re the dirtiest oil we have,” Hannan said.