OPINION: Working to realize Alaska’s enormous potential in the new Congress

On Feb. 7, I addressed the Alaska Legislature — the most important speech I give all year. The country’s attention was understandably focused on President Joe Biden’s State of the Union, but I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else in the world than in Juneau. I spoke about what we’re doing on the federal level to help realize Alaska’s enormous potential, which is not only critical for Alaskans but also essential for our nation’s economic strength, security and, fundamentally, our nation’s soul.

I began my speech with my No. 1 priority: revitalizing Alaska’s economy and creating good jobs for all Alaskans. We have challenges, no doubt, but I’m optimistic, particularly regarding opportunities for resource development.

With the Willow Project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, which just received its final environmental analysis earlier this month, and the Pikka Project on state lands, we could be looking at more than $10 billion in private sector investment, 3,000 construction jobs, peak production of more than 250,000 barrels per day, and billions in revenues for our state government, the North Slope Borough and communities throughout Alaska. This is on the cusp of happening right now.

But it’s not just oil and gas. We have enormous wind, solar, hydro, tidal, geothermal and carbon sequestration potential. Alaska also has the minerals the world needs for new technologies, supporting our national defense and countering China, which dominates the production of these important minerals and metals.

There is also cause for optimism on our long-sought goal of bringing clean-burning North Slope natural gas to Alaskans and markets beyond. Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine totally upended global energy markets. Our allies around the world have a moral imperative to get off of Russian oil and gas, and Alaska can meet this demand. As someone who has worked on this dream for Alaska for many years, we’re seeing key stakeholder alignment like never before.

We’re also continuing the significant military buildup in Alaska. Since I’ve been in office, we’ve secured billions in military construction for Alaska. This not only has enhanced America’s security, it’s also been a great way to strengthen our economy and create good-paying jobs. The incursion of a Chinese spy balloon into Alaska airspace should be a wake-up call for America and highlights our state’s role as the frontline of America’s defense. This episode also points to how the significant military build-up in Alaska is vital for protecting our national security.

This past year, I attended the activation ceremony of the U.S. Army 11th Airborne Division in Fairbanks and Anchorage. The 11th Airborne has a proud and storied history, starting during World War II in the Pacific.


This activation represents a sea change in the Pentagon’s thinking about the Arctic. Not long ago, the Pentagon saw the Arctic as a strategic backwater: no strategy and a focus on shutting down bases and units here in Alaska. Not anymore. We are also now home to the Pentagon’s newest regional center: the Ted Stevens Center for Arctic Security Studies. And substantial progress has been made on America’s first critical deep-water Arctic port in Nome, and the first icebreaker to be home-ported in Alaska — in Juneau.

With all of these advancements, Alaska has rightly earned its place as the center of gravity for America’s Arctic security operations and economic opportunities.

Another cause for optimism is infrastructure. Alaska is a resource-rich but infrastructure-poor state. The bipartisan infrastructure bill passed in 2021 wasn’t perfect, but getting more infrastructure built — roads, bridges, ports — has been a top priority of mine. Billions of dollars have been secured for Alaska as the result of this bill. One of the most transformative aspects of the infrastructure bill is the focus on broadband connectivity for our state. The billions of dollars in investments will put the goal of connecting all Alaskans — every community, village and town — within reach.

But we can have the best economy in the world and none of it will matter if our people are suffering from the blight of sexual assault, addiction and mental health declines. We have to address these together.

Working with members of both parties, I’ve passed laws bringing significant funding to help people dealing with addiction. Because studies show that survivors of violence have a much better chance of breaking out of the cycle of violence when represented by a lawyer, I’ve also passed the Pro Bono Work to Empower and Represent Act. The POWER Act has been helping combat domestic violence and sexual assault by connecting free legal services with survivors. To date, the effort has reached more than 61,000 attorneys across America to offer these free legal services, and create an army of lawyers across the country to empower survivors.

Finally, as it relates to social challenges, there is a mental health crisis across our nation threatening our young people. Suicides among adolescents have jumped 29% in 10 years. The numbers are staggering for teenage girls. There was a 50% increase nationwide in suicide attempts for teenage girls during the pandemic.

This is a complex issue and the pandemic certainly didn’t help. But I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that increases in youth depression rates began to rise precipitously in 2013, when young people began to flock to Instagram and, more recently, TikTok. Even those who aren’t parents know there is something horribly amiss with a whole generation so addicted to their phones that they can’t seem to ever look up.

I generally follow the principle of less government and more freedom. But I believe government should step in when the financial interests of big business are hurting our young people. Big Tech’s business model is to get our children hooked. Our children are hooked.

I’ve sponsored bills to help parents shake the grip these companies have on our children. But more needs to be done. I’m working with my colleagues on solutions. One idea is to limit some social media use for kids under 16. Stay tuned for more.

Finally, I talked to our legislators about the larger geostrategic challenges facing our nation, and Alaskans’ role in confronting them. We’ve clearly entered a new era of authoritarian aggression, led by Russia’s and China’s dictators.

With our strategic location, our exceptional military, and our world-class resources, Alaska has an enormous role to play in ensuring America prevails in this new era of brutal dictatorships versus democracies.

Unfortunately, many in the Biden administration have worked to undercut our huge potential. In two years, the Biden administration has issued 44 executive orders or executive actions solely focused on our state, something I refer to as a war on Alaska.

No other state gets this kind of unwarranted attention. But there is something the Biden administration could do to help our state and our country: Approve the Willow EIS and release an economically viable Record of Decision (ROD) in the next three weeks.

The stakes are enormous and we have a battle on our hands in the next 21 days. Every far-left, radical Lower-48 environmental group in the country opposes the project. And as we know, nearly every Alaska Native group, our hard-working union laborers, as well as the vast majority of Alaskans — the people closest to the project — support it.

I concluded my speech with a call to action: I asked legislators to pass a resolution in support of Willow. In order for the Biden administration to approve an economically-viable final ROD in the next three weeks, they need to hear from all of us, and from as many Alaskans as possible. Alaskans need to speak with one, unified voice on this issue that is so critical to the state we love.

If we stick together — always remembering that our future rests on creating a place with a sense of purpose, where freedom of spirit, adventure, legend and community are interwoven — the possibilities, not only for our state, but for our country, are endless.

Sen. Dan Sullivan, first elected in 2014, represents Alaska in the U.S. Senate.

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Dan Sullivan