Sullivan talks states’ rights, EPA, energy

JUNEAU — With polarizing issues facing the Alaska Legislature, there couldn’t have been a more interesting time for the state’s freshman U.S. senator to make a stop at the Capitol.

Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, made it clear in his first-ever address to lawmakers that his intention is to push against President Barack Obama’s mandates while working to get things done for the state. Needless to say, his speech was a hit with the Republican House and Senate majorities.

Sullivan, a former Alaska attorney general and Department of Natural Resources commissioner, met with the Juneau Empire to share his perspectives on issues impacting the state. The interview has been edited for length.

Q: You said in your talks today that 36 states are aligned against perceived Environmental Protection Agency overreach. Rep. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, has introduced a resolution asking for an amendment of the U.S. Constitution to give states veto power over federal decisions they disagree with. Do you think there’s a chance states could force the federal government to back down on EPA regulations?

A: (In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece this week,) I talk about federal legislation that would be something very analogous … that would require federal agencies to come back through the Congress with any major rule … and have Congress actually approve up or down the regulation. It gets us out of this big problem… where the Obama administration comes to the Congress …, there’s no stomach for it because it’s not supported by the American people, and then it doesn’t move through the Congress, and then (Obama’s administration) go ahead and issue or direct agency action on the thing they couldn’t get done through the Congress in the first place. And then to be honest it becomes a bit of a battle for us to stop that. …

Yeah (I think there’s a chance states could force the federal government to back down). … One of the themes of my remarks today was the importance of us listening to states and also having them help on our big federal issues. The structure of the government was not meant to be federal government top down command economy structure. That’s not how we were set up as a country. Just because we are like that now doesn’t mean we need to be like that for good. … I think under the Obama administration that’s the total M.O.

Q: The EPA’s recent actions — the Clean Air Act restriction in particular — seem to be an effort to mitigate climate change. If you disagree with the agency’s methods, what would you suggest as an appropriate course of action to combat global climate change?

A: I’m somebody who has been a true believer in “all-of-the-above” energy. The best way you can deal with lowering CO2 emissions is having a strong economy to do so. You’ve seen what natural gas in places like the Lower 48 … where there’s been a huge reduction of greenhouse gas emissions through the use of natural gas. … What I would never be for, and this administration seems to be for all the time, is undermining our economic growth potential, picking one source of energy over another.

Q: Speaking of diversified energy, what can you do at the federal level to help Alaska get its gas pipeline?

A: The key role I think we can play, and I’m working on it … with some of my Democratic colleagues, what we need to be able to do, without cutting corners on the environment, is be able to expedite the permitting and regulatory requirements of the gas line. If we’re able to cut one to two to three years off of the normal permitting process timeline, which I think is very doable, you would literally save hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars on the project and help make it more competitive. Here’s why it’s very doable for us: So much of our gas line is going to cover areas of infrastructure in the state that have been EIS’d and EA’d forever, the North Slope, the TAPS pipeline route. Granted, the gas line is not 100 percent along that route, but a whole lot of that is. … One final one, it’s what I’ve talked about today, is making the argument. If there was a large-scale energy project that made sense not only for Alaska but for the United States, it’s Alaska liquefied natural gas. I mean, that is a win-win-win-win every way you look at it. It’s great for jobs in America and Alaska, it’s great for low cost energy for Alaskans, which of course we need, it’s great for low cost energy probably for Hawaiians, … it’s very good for our allies in Asia and Korea. 


And would it be good to have the Chinese be a little more dependent on us with regard to gas? Yeah. It would help our trade deficit. It would dramatically  increase our national security. We could send Alaska LNG to the Ukrainians and help prevent Vladimir Putin from blackmailing our country with energy. So, we’ve gotta make the case that way, why this is a national imperative.


Q: You’ve spoken a lot today about success being contingent on aligning efforts and working across the aisle. Looking in from the Outside, what do you see as an issue Alaskans need to get aligned on in order to move forward as a state?

A: We need to continue to align on the gas line. Look, the governor has worked on this for decades, and I have the utmost respect for his knowledge and wisdom. One of the things I took over (as Department of Natural Resources commissioner), one of the things I tried to study deeply is why have we not been able to commercialize this gas in 40 years? Why? This is back in 2011 … we weren’t even close to where we are now … Point Thomson was mired in litigation, Exxon and TransCanada had their own gas line project going in the Lower 48, Conoco and BP had the Denali project. We weren’t even talking about (liquefied natural gas). The way I looked at it, every single time we tried to make progress, we had one major, major stakeholder, one critical, important piece of the puzzle, out of alignment. … Take a look at our history, almost every time we look like were’ getting progress, one of those elements kind of comes out of whack. … (How did we make progress?) We started aligning all those groups, and it’s important to keep that going. The window of opportunity in Asia isn’t going to last forever. … I’m not weighing in on which option (AKLNG or the Alaska Stand Alone Pipeline). I don’t feel it’s my role to dip into this pretty intense debate.