Sen. Sullivan stresses economic promise of Willow drilling project and military spending in annual address to Legislature

Dan Sullivan
U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan addressed the Alaska Legislature on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023 at the state Capitol in Juneau. (Gavel Alaska screen capture)

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan on Tuesday urged the Alaska Legislature to use its collective power to support the Willow project, ConocoPhillips’ big Arctic drilling proposal.

“Close to 200,000 barrels a day. 17 billion in revenues for the feds, for the state, for the North Slope Borough,” he said, reciting the predicted results of the project. “Highest environmental standards and lowest greenhouse gas emissions of any major project like this in the world, and broad-based support from so many Alaskans, particularly the Alaska Native leaders and Alaska Native citizens who live in the region.”

But, Sullivan said, the battle over the project will be “ferocious” over the next month, while the Biden administration decides whether to greenlight the proposal.

That’s because environmental advocates fiercely oppose the project. So do the city and tribe of Nuiqsut, the nearest village. They say the project will endanger wildlife and a subsistence lifestyle while accelerating climate change.

Sullivan, in his annual address to the Alaska Legislature, asked state lawmakers to pass a resolution supporting Willow.

His speech focused on the traditional Alaska complaints of a heavy-handed federal government and the hopes that the state will prosper through resource extraction and military spending.

“Since I’ve been in office, we have secured billions in military construction for Alaska, and that is continuing,” he said. “This of course has enhanced America’s national security. But it’s also been a great way to strengthen our economy and increase job growth and Alaska. “

Sullivan blamed the Biden administration for restraining resource development in Alaska, which he calls a “war on Alaska.” He also blamed the national media, which he complained are biased against Willow. Journalists, he said, don’t recognize that most Alaska Native leaders support the project.

“Yeah, you can always find one or two people, who you can quote, (who are) against it,” he said in a press conference after his speech.

On the drive to get new icebreakers for the U.S. Coast Guard, Sullivan promised that one is coming. And, he said, it will be homeported in Juneau due to his work behind the scenes.

“Every now and then you can leverage things, like confirmation or promotions of Coast Guard officers, and that’s what I did,” he told legislators. “I said we’re not moving forward on any more promotions in the Coast Guard until we get this study of where you’re going to put the icebreaker in our state.”

But money to buy the next icebreaker, a relatively small commercial ship that’s already built, was cut at the last minute from the federal spending bill last year.  Sullivan told reporters that he’s heard the money was diverted for border security, which Sen. Lisa Murkowski has said as well.

Alaska Congresswoman Mary Peltola will also make a speech to the Alaska Legislature this month, followed by Murkowski.

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

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