The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Developing Alaska’s wildlife refuge is a win-win-win

In this undated photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an airplane flies over the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska. (Associated Press)

Dan Sullivan, a Republican, represents Alaska in the U.S. Senate.

In expressing opposition to the responsible development of a small slice of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, The Post's editorial board recycled stale, 40-year-old talking points without adding a single voice from the vast majority of Alaskans — Democrats and Republicans — who support the development. In so doing, The Post failed to include a serious discussion about new technologies and environmental safeguards that would greatly limit the footprint of development in the area.

Indeed, the fundamental disconnect in this debate about developing ANWR’s coastal plain, mirrored in The Post’s editorial, is that the debate has not kept up with Alaska’s world-class environmental standards or advancements in technology.

Responsibly developing the coastal plain of ANWR — commonly referred to as the 1002 area — is truly a win for the United States. It will create jobs, grow the economy, increase energy security for Americans, and, importantly, help protect the global environment and strengthen our national security.

It is these last two points I’d like to emphasize.

I oversaw Alaska’s environmental standards as the state’s commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources, and I can say with certainty that Alaska has the highest environmental standards regarding responsible Arctic resource development in the world. Our state has a 50-year record of responsible resource development and no “impact exploration,” meaning that we mandate the best available technology and require the protection of our incredible species, such as polar bears and caribou.

On the North Slope of Alaska, for example, we allow for exploration activities only during the winter months. Companies are required to build ice roads across the tundra and ice pads where they put their equipment and drill rigs. They must also leave before the end of the winter. The ice pads and roads melt, leaving zero impact on the tundra. The only thing left is a small, capped well.

Because of Alaska's advancements in technology, including horizontal drilling, the GOP tax bill, which includes the provision to develop the 1002 area, allows only a surface impact of 2,000 acres.

The Post editorial says that the coastal area of ANWR is a "zone" that is "off-limits to development." That's simply not true. In fact, this area was specifically set aside by Congress in 1980 in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act for potential oil and gas development, and previous Interior secretaries have said that it should be developed. The editorial also fails to mention that an area within the same ecosystem is already in development for oil and gas. For the past four years, the Point Thomson field on the North Slope — only two miles from the western border of the 1002 area — has been producing energy, with minimal impact on the environment and wildlife.

Further, when you disallow investment in Alaska, you don’t end up protecting the environment. You just drive capital, investment, exploration and development activities to countries — often our geopolitical foes —with little to no environmental standards, such as Nigeria, Venezuela, Iran and Russia.

Producing more energy responsibly — oil, natural gas, renewables — can make the United States the world’s energy superpower again and dramatically increase our national security. I have 24 years of service as a U.S. Marine and served as an assistant secretary of state with a portfolio that included global energy issues. I’ve seen how energy can be used as a tool for productive diplomacy and for troublesome power grabs by our nation’s foes.

Our national security and foreign policy greatly benefit when we don’t have to import energy from countries that don’t like us or, better yet, when we can export U.S. energy to our allies.

Leaders from both parties at the Defense Department — including former secretary Ash Carter and the current secretary, Jim Mattis — have emphasized this point for years.

The Russians recognize this as well. The New York Times recently reported that Russia "is increasingly wielding oil as a geopolitical tool, spreading its influence around the world and challenging the interests of the United States."

A meeting I had last year with a Russian dissident reinforces this point. When asked what more the United States could do to push back against President Vladi­mir Putin’s regime, he replied: “Produce more American energy.”

We can open the 1002 area to produce more American energy for the betterment of our country using the highest environmental standards and the most advanced technology in the world.

Read more on this topic:

Kathleen Parker: Congress’s grizzly betrayal

The Post’s View: Neither side is really right on offshore drilling