Sullivan: deregulation will be a relief to Alaska economy
U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan continues his push to purvey positivity to Alaskans, which he says is largely a result of federal policy changes over the past two years.
He acknowledged Alaska is still facing the challenges of a lingering recession— possibly coming out of it this year — crime and substance abuse during an Election Day speech at the Alaska Miners Association convention, but stressed there are positives on the horizon for the economy.
“There’s a lot of things where I think, just around the corner, if we make good choices today, to be blunt and continue the trajectory on, I think we’re looking at the possibility of a real jobs and economic boom coming to our state,” Sullivan said.
He contended the corporate tax cuts Congress passed last December have helped U.S. businesses be more competitive and make job-creating investments.
A point he makes regularly, Sullivan noted the second and third quarter GDP growth of 4.2 percent and 3.5 percent, respectively, which he said simply didn’t occur after the Great Recession during the Obama administration.
“What really made this country great was consistent 3.5, 4 percent, 5 percent, 6 percent GDP growth, which was normal — Democrat, Republican, doesn’t matter — that’s what we used to do for 200 years,” Sullivan stressed.
The job creation that has driven national unemployment as low as it’s been in 50 years, according to Sullivan, at 3.7 percent in September should be headed to Alaska, he said.
To the crowd of miners he specifically discussed his efforts and those of Congress in concert with the Trump administration to roll back environmental regulations that he says were often intended to stymie resource industries.
Sullivan cited the repeal of the Army Corps of Engineers 2015 wetlands jurisdiction update known as the Waters of the U.S., or WOTUS, rule. Proponents argued it simply clarified what waters the Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency have jurisdictional authority over. Republicans and some Democrats said it would have drastically increased the scope of the agencies’ authority and would have led to Clean Water Act permits for development and agriculture in many places they are currently aren’t required.
The Republican majority in Congress has used the Congressional Review Act to block or rescind primarily environmental regulations from the Obama administration 16 times in the past two years, according to Sullivan.
He recalled a phone conversation he had with President Donald Trump early in his presidency in which Sullivan outlined his Regulations Endanger Democracy, or RED Tape Act, legislation that would require federal agencies to repeal an old regulation each time another is promulgated.
“(Trump) said, ‘You know, one in, one out, I’m actually more interested in one in, two out,’” Sullivan said of the call. “And if you actually look at what (the administration) has done, I think they’re actually around one in, nine out.”
He highlighted that the administration has also incorporated portions of his Rebuild America Now Act — legislation to reform the landmark 1969 National Environmental Policy Act that established the comprehensive environmental impact statement review for large development projects — into its executive actions.
His bill, which he said he will be pushing again in the next Congress, would put one agency in charge and place a “two-year shot clock” on NEPA project reviews, according to Sullivan.
Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said during a trip to Alaska in March that he handed down a directive for Interior agency staff to limit EIS reviews to one-year.
Partially as a result of that, BLM is expected to hold an oil and gas lease sale for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain sometime in 2019, Sullivan added.
“This isn’t cutting corners; this isn’t trying to pollute the environment. This is just common sense,” he said.
“All of these things are completely common sense. If you look at the things other industrialized democracies — Canada, Australia — do permitting mines. These are what they do; things we need to do.”
In other forums Sullivan has been questioned Canadian environmental standards related to mining. He has urged British Columbia officials review the province’s environmental requirements for mines, particularly as they relate to active or potential mines in the several large salmon-bearing rivers that flow from the province and through Southeast Alaska.
An issue that is starting gain bipartisan traction in Congress, according to Sullivan, is that of China’s dominance in the rare earth metals sector, and what can be done to reverse the trend.
China is the primary producer of rare earth elements used in technological devices and by the Department of Defense in advanced weapons systems.
“It just makes sense” to produce such critical minerals in the U.S., he said.
The 2019 National Defense Authorization Act passed last summer includes provisions discouraging the Defense Department from purchasing products or devices containing rare earths sourced from a short list of countries including China.
Finally, Sullivan said before votes were tallied that he does not usually comment on state policy initiatives, but emphasized how large of a threat he feels Ballot Measure 1, the anadromous fish habitat initiative is to development in Alaska.
“We have challenges, but I am so optimistic about the future, assuming that Ballot Measure 1 gets defeated today,” he said.
The measure was defeated soundly by a nearly 2-1 margin.
Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].