Rep. Peltola joins Alaska senators to champion Willow project

A woman in a black suit jacket speaking into a microphone.
Mary Peltola speaking at the Alaska Oil & Gas Association candidate forum on August 31, 2022. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

Alaska’s congressional delegation, including Democrat Mary Peltola, sent a letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland Tuesday, asking her to approve the Willow project, a proposed oil development in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

The letter itself is not unusual. It recounts the lengthy permitting process, lists benefits to Alaska’s economy and urges Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to approve the project in time for the winter construction season.

Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan have sent at least two earlier versions of the letter, but Congresswoman Peltola’s signature could carry extra weight with Haaland. She, like Peltola, is one of only a handful of Indigenous women to ever serve in Congress. Haaland gave an emotional speech at a reception last week celebrating Peltola’s swearing-in. She’s contributed to her political campaign. And they’re both Democrats.

Whatever the letter’s power to expedite the Willow project over the objections of environmental groups, it helps Peltola’s profile as she campaigns in a Republican-leaning state. With her next election just weeks away, actions like this help her show that she can work in tandem with Alaska’s Republican senators.

They also demonstrate that she’s in favor some development projects and make it harder for her Republican opponents, Sarah Palin and Nick Begich, to define her as a captive of the Democratic left and their allies in the environmental lobby.

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Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage. Reach her at lruskin@alaskapublic.org.