GOP senator opposes Obama but takes advantage of his visit

By Margaret Kriz Hobson | 09/08/2015 06:46 AM EDT

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) hustled into his downtown office here last week for an interview, sandwiched between meetings with state constituents and foreign dignitaries.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) hustled into his downtown office here last week for an interview, sandwiched between meetings with state constituents and foreign dignitaries.

Days before, Sullivan had been on the tarmac at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, first in line to greet President Obama as he began his historic three-day visit to the Frontier State.

Sullivan, his wife and his daughter were also on hand for Obama’s powerful climate change speech at the conclusion of the State Department’s Conference on Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement and Resilience.


Separately, Sullivan met privately with national ministers who flew to Anchorage for the climate change summit.

During Obama’s visit, many other Alaska Republicans and state business leaders avoided the president’s public appearances.

After all, the Democratic president has outlawed oil and gas development in thousands of acres of Alaska lands in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and parts of the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska and offshore Arctic Ocean.

But Sullivan viewed his limited access to the chief executive as a chance to lobby for Alaskan issues. "I think anytime a leader of the country, and in this case leaders of the other nations, shine a spotlight on Alaska, it’s an opportunity," he explained.

During his meetings with foreign officials, Sullivan said he discussed problems of Arctic security. "I’ve heard a lot of concern about the Russian militarization of the Arctic, the fact that Vladimir Putin is building huge forces in the Arctic and the United States is actually looking at reducing them. I think that’s a strategic mistake."

In congressional delegation trips to visit America’s Asia-Pacific allies, Sullivan said he regularly encourages leaders of energy-poor countries to consider large-scale imports of liquefied natural gas from Alaska and other U.S. states.

"These are energy issues, they’re security issues, they’re strategic issues for the United States," he said.

In his first year as a U.S. senator, Sullivan, 49, is still defining himself to his constituents and to Washington. And despite his attendance at the State Department conference, climate change is clearly not at the top of his priority list.

He argues that Alaskans have other issues on their minds.

"I was just down in Bethel for two days, and there was a lot of that discussion of suicide, [the need for] sewer and water infrastructure, domestic violence and how we treat our troops," he recalled.

"I don’t think climate change came up in one meeting," he said. "And I met with hundreds of people."

Seeking to ease regulatory burden

Sullivan earned a seat in the Senate by defeating Democratic incumbent Mark Begich last fall in Alaska’s big-money general election. He won by a scant 6,000 votes.

During his campaign, Sullivan heavily emphasized his military service and his past state and federal government jobs — experience that is now shaping his Senate agenda.

He’s currently a member of four Senate panels that reflect Alaska’s ties to the military and business issues: the Armed Services; Commerce, Science and Transportation; Environment and Public Works; and the Veterans’ Affairs committees.

Aiming to make his mark on federal policy, Sullivan recently introduced a bill that would freeze the constant flow of new government regulations coming out of Washington.

His bill, dubbed the "RED (Regulations Endanger Democracy) Tape Act," would require government agencies to remove a regulation from their books every time they finalize a new rule.

"A lot of Alaskans think we’re the only ones with federal overregulation," Sullivan said.

"But that feeling is shared by most of the Republican caucus, and it’s starting to move to the Democratic side of the aisle," he said. "Because it impacts everybody — farmers in Indiana, oil drillers in North Dakota, schools everywhere. There’s a sense that agencies, particularly EPA, have become lawless."

No hearings have been scheduled on the bill, which was introduced the day before the August recess.

Meanwhile, Sullivan is hoping to work with the Obama administration to cut federal red tape for Alaska’s proposed multibillion-dollar LNG export venture, a project he worked on while serving as Alaska natural resources commissioner.

The LNG pipeline and export project would include a North Slope gas treatment plant, an 800-mile natural gas pipeline, a liquefaction plant and an LNG export terminal. Preliminary estimates set the project’s price tag at between $45 billion and $65 billion.

The state of Alaska is partnering on the business enterprise with Exxon Mobil Corp., BP Alaska PLC, ConocoPhillips Alaska Inc. and TransCanada Corp. (EnergyWire, June 29).

Sullivan said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell recently agreed to work with the state to limit the number of new environmental impact studies necessary to gain federal approval for the mega-project.

He maintains that the LNG project could use data collected during National Environmental Policy Act reviews already completed and updated for other projects, including the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, which carries oil from the North Slope to an export terminal in Valdez.

"This is a great opportunity to expedite the federal permitting of this project," Sullivan said. "I’ve talked to the companies, and they say one or two years off of their permitting timeline could literally save hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars in terms of the cost of the project."

Bidding to stop WOTUS

Sullivan is also bringing an Alaskan perspective to legislation passed this year by the Environment and Public Works Committee. He won some modest funding increases for Alaska in the recent six-year highway bill, adopted by the committee in July.

Sullivan also backs a Senate bill that would require the Obama administration to rewrite its contentious federal waters rule, which expands the number of streams and lakes that fall under the Clean Water Act’s jurisdiction.

That legislature was adopted by the EPW Committee in June. Sullivan, who leads the panel’s Fisheries, Water and Wildlife Subcommittee, predicts that the bill is likely to win the 60 votes needed to pass in the full Senate this fall.

In April, Sullivan held an Alaska field hearing blasting the EPA regulation. He noted that Alaska has 43,000 miles of coastline, 174 million acres of wetlands and millions of lakes, making the state particularly vulnerable to EPA oversight under the new rule.

The fate of the water policy rule was thrown into question last month when a North Dakota district judge issued an injunction blocking the regulation from taking effect in 13 states, including Alaska, while lawsuits challenging it play out (Greenwire, Aug. 28).