A Free-Market Energy Blog

Senator Sullivan to Obama: Approve Keystone XL (maiden speech from new AK senator)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- March 16, 2015

“We built the 1,700 mile Alaska-Canadian Highway (ALCAN highway) through some of the world’s most rugged terrain in less than a year. We built the Empire State Building in 410 days; the Pentagon, we built it in 16 months. Mr. President, there is NO reason that Keystone should have been studied for six years.”

Mr. President, today I stand in support of the Keystone Pipeline Project.

As an Alaskan, I feel it’s important to talk about this bill and the importance of American energy infrastructure. I live in a state with one of the world’s largest pipelines. In 1973, after bitter debate, similar to the debate about Keystone, Congress passed a bill that led to the construction of the trans-Alaska pipeline system– what we in Alaska call TAPS.

It almost didn’t happen. The Vice President at the time, serving as the president of the Senate, cast the tie-breaking vote. Then, like now, opponents howled. They said TAPS would be an environmental disaster. They said bird and caribou populations would be decimated. In fact, birds and caribou flourished, showing that we can develop energy infrastructure responsibly with the highest standards in the world – and Alaska proves this every day.

TAPS was completed in 1978. It has carried almost 17 billion barrels of oil to energy-thirsty American markets. It’s a technological and environmental marvel and a critical component of America’s energy infrastructure. It’s been a resounding success for this country, and for my state. It’s the engine of growth for Alaska’s economy, and has proved the safest and most environmentally responsible way to transport oil, is through a pipeline.

I’m certain that Keystone will also prove a success.

Mr. President, in supporting Keystone, I’m also standing for a larger, more important principle: The ideal that the federal government should be a partner in opportunity. A partner in progress, not an obstacle.

I’m standing in support of what has defined this country for centuries: The idea of the American dream.

Mr. President, the American dream is still alive in my home state. Yes, we have major challenges like all states, but in Alaska, we still have hope; we still dream big dreams. And TAPS helps fuel these dreams.

In Alaska, the very air you breathe is bathed in promise. The people still speak the language of bold ideas, and rugged adventure, and it’s these people of all colors all creeds, who make up the tapestry of Alaska that gives us our strength.

It’s the enormous opportunities of our natural resources, whether world class fisheries or oil and gas reserves, that drive the economic engine of my state. But, despite this promise and opportunity, I also see anxiety, frustration and even fear in the eyes of my fellow Alaskans. Just as I know others are seeing across the country. And despite what we’re hearing from this Administration, Americans have reasons to feel this way.

General Obama Malaise

Business start-ups are at a 35-year low, as is the percentage of Americans actually looking for work. More small businesses failed than were started this past year. And over three quarters of Americans now believe that their kids’ future will be less promising than their own.

Mr. President, believing that we will leave our children a better tomorrow is the essence of the American dream, but for many, that dream is starting to fade. This does not have to be. We live in a state and a country with so much untapped potential, so many opportunities, and so much promise, that can bring limitless possibilities for our kids and our grandkids.

And yet, in Alaska and throughout America, people are feeling that the heavy hand of the federal government is not working in their interests. The boldness of America is being bludgeoned by bureaucrats.

New executive orders and regulations arising everywhere. And every time another one of those unneeded and often absurd regulations is promulgated, a little bit of hope dies.

A little bit of hope dies every time a doctor’s office is shuttered or someone loses health insurance because of the complexities and costs of ObamaCare. A little hope dies when a rural community wants to build a road that will protect its citizens and is told by the Secretary of Interior that birds are more important than their lives. And a LOT of hope dies when the people in my state are told that the resources that are rightfully theirs can’t be developed, and their lands and waters can’t be fished and hunted to put food on their table.

Keystone XL: Let’s Go

Mr. President, I support the Keystone Pipeline. It will create thousands of jobs. That’s why it has the overwhelming support of American labor unions. It will enhance America’s energy infrastructure and contribute billions to our economy. That’s why it has the support of the American people. But just one bill, one pipeline, one project, is not enough. It isn’t nearly enough.

Since the founding of this country, we’ve had important debates right here on this floor about the role of the federal government in our lives. And judging from what Americans are telling us, the reach of the federal government has hit its limits. It’s exceeded its limits. Our citizens are telling us that their government – and it is their government – has gone well beyond deriving its powers from the consent of the governed.

What the American people are telling us—what Alaskans are telling me—is that they want a federal government that helps ignite their hope, not smother it.

Mr. President, we have a job to do. We must work to address the anxiety and frustration of the people we serve. We must work to once again unleash the great potential that is Alaska and America and we must work to reinvigorate faith in the American dream.
How do we do this?

Four Suggestions

Let me suggest a few ideas.

First, stop delaying economic projects that benefit our citizens. Purposeful delay and roadblocks have been the hallmark of this Administration’s approach to infrastructure projects that benefit Americans.

And Alaska has been ground zero for such delays: bridges, roads, mines that take years simply to permit – not to build; oil wells that cannot be drilled on federal lands despite billions of dollars in leases from the private sector to the federal government; a state-of-the-art clean coal plant that sits idle—for over a decade – despite the dire need for lower cost energy throughout Alaska.

The Keystone Pipeline – a project that has been studied for six years – is just the latest example of the willful delay that has been the weapon of choice for this Administration for killing projects they don’t like. Enough is enough. We’re Americans! We know what we are capable of!

We built the 1,700 mile Alaska-Canadian Highway (ALCAN highway) through some of the world’s most rugged terrain in less than a year. We built the Empire State Building in 410 days; the Pentagon, we built it in 16 months. Mr. President, there is NO reason that Keystone should have been studied for six years.

If the Executive Branch continues to dither on America’s economic future – Congress can and should act to expedite such projects. That’s what we’re doing with Keystone and that’s what I will be pressing the Congress to do for Alaska’s and America’s next great energy infrastructure project – the Alaska LNG Project, which will create thousands of jobs and provide clean affordable energy to Americans and our allies for decades.

Second, we need more, not less, access to our federal lands. As Americans, these are our lands–we own them–they are not the Department of Interior’s or BLM’s. Yet this Administration is adamant on keeping us from responsibly developing them.

Once again, Alaska is ground zero for their efforts. Through Executive orders of dubious legal merit, this Administration locked up half of the National Petroleum Reserve of Alaska. This isn’t a national park. NPR-A is an area specifically set aside, by Congress, for oil and gas development.

And just this weekend, in another brazen action, the Obama Administration announced that they are working to lock up millions of acres of land on Alaska’s coastal plain – some of the nation’s richest oil and gas prospects.

This is an affront to Alaskans and Americans who cherish security, energy security, the rule of law and the strength of our nation. And it’s an affront to members of Congress, regardless of party. How we develop Alaska’s lands is an area where Congress – not the Executive – has preeminent authority.

I think the Obama Administration needs a reminder of what Article IV, Section 3 of the Constitution states: “The Congress shall have the Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States.”

My third point: We must get back to the rule of law. The rule of law, carefully built up and nurtured for centuries in America, is a fundamental pillar of our great nation. Most countries don’t have it. We do. It’s a gift. But if we continue to erode this rule of law, we ultimately undermine what it means to be American. And it will be hard to get back.

But I have hope. Because there are still enough of us who respect the rule of law and who see the Constitution not as a mere suggestion, but as THE foundation for the structure of our government and our individual liberties.

There have been cracks in the foundation recently. But the people sent us here to repair those cracks….

We MUST challenge the conventional wisdom, that has existed in this town for decades—that the federal government’s power, and intrusiveness should always be expanding – like some inevitable force of nature.

Nowhere is this more important than reforming the overgrown regulatory thicket that strangles our future. According to the President’s own Small Business Administration, federal regulations impose an annual burden on our economy of close to $2 trillion dollars. That’s roughly $15,000 dollars per year, per American family.

Federal regulations are sapping our strength as a nation. So many of them don’t make sense, and others are not authorized by law or the Constitution as they MUST be. And increasingly those who promulgate and enforce them are showing less and less restraint for the well-being of our citizens.

EPA Overreach

The recent Obama Administration ANWR assault is the latest example. And I will use all my power to protect the economic growth and prosperity of Alaska. That is why I have already filed amendments with Senator Murkowski to rescind the Obama Administration’s ANWR order. I’ve also filed an amendment that seeks to check another abuse of federal power.

Mr. President, When the EPA was initially authorized in 1970, no one thought it necessary to arm its employees with weapons. But today in a classic case of federal government power creep, close to 200 armed EPA, close to 200 armed EPA agents are roaming our country. It’s a disturbing fact. But it was particularly disturbing for the small group of miners, who, during the summer of 2013, prospecting for gold in Chicken, Alaska, were swarmed by armed EPA agents.

This wasn’t some huge mining conglomerate. This was a small, placer miner operation in Interior Alaska.

Sluice boxes with specks of Alaska gold… and EPA agents armed with rifles, shotguns, body armor, helicopter overhead, looking for Clean Water Act violations. They found none, and apart from terrifying the miners, they accomplished nothing.

Mr. President, as Alaska’s former Attorney General and Commissioner of Natural Resources, I have worked with many fine federal agents, and I understand the importance of sensible regulations that are based on the directives of Congress.

But problems arise when regulations become excessive…. Let’s give my state, and the rest of the country, a little hope that we are doing the jobs that they sent us here to do.

One concrete step in that direction would be to pass the simple amendment I am offering—to disarm the EPA. They can certainly do their jobs without having guns – they have done so in the past, and they should be able to do so in the future.

Finally, let me close with a few words about how I view my mission here.

I suspect it doesn’t differ greatly from what most of us hope to accomplish. We all want the best for the people we serve and for the states we represent. We want to be strong here at home which will help us be respected once again by our allies and feared by our adversaries. We want our children to be safe and secure and we want the same for our neighbor. We want to live in a country of unlimited opportunity, a country of Alaska-sized dreams.

We want a government that holds dear what our founding fathers knew – that all powers are derived from the consent of the governed. And I think most of us can agree that we must unleash our country’s enormous economic potential once again.

I believe our government should be helping us, not hindering us, achieve these efforts. And I believe that unlocking our country’s vast energy potential is one of the best ways to reignite the American dream.

Mr. President, despite challenges, despite big-government’s creep into our lives, despite even armed EPA agents, we continue to live in the greatest country in the world. In the history of the world. There is no doubt about that; the people who sent us here still have big dreams and big hopes. Let’s held those dreams grow and their hopes flourish.


  1. James Rust  

    Great letter. I can’t be optimistic President Obama will listen to good advice.

    The economic benefits of the Keystone Pipeline are obvious. As an engineer, safety is foremost and the pipelines are by far the safest means of transporting oil as opposed to road tankers or rail. We have had three serious rail accidents in the past few weeks involving tankers being derailed with great damage. And naturally, President Obama does not follow his own advice in that pipelines produce the least amount of carbon dioxide from transport as compared to road or rail.

    James H. Rust, Professor


  2. Dave Harbour  

    Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan’s 2015 maiden speech to the United States Senate is one of the most important energy speeches we have observed in our 40 years of following Congressional energy policy. It is a blueprint for America’s economic recovery–especially when taken in context with earlier speeches by U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, former US. Senator Ted Stevens, and Former Congressman Doc Hastings.


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