U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today pressed Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell on her department’s $13.4 billion budget request, noting that it would further restrict resource production in federal areas and ignore budget realities by increasing mandatory spending.
“I am very troubled by the approach that Interior is trying to take for Alaska and the rest of our nation,” Murkowski said. “The Administration claims that this budget ‘…invests in Alaska’s long-term economic and environmental well-being.’ But time and again, I have looked through this budget proposal and unfortunately what I see is the continuation of a blocking effort, a preemption of our ability to safely develop our vast resources, and that takes away our best opportunities to grow and prosper.”
Murkowski, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, pointed to the Interior Department’s failure to fulfill promises made 57 years ago to convey federal land in Alaska back to the state and Alaska Native Corporations. Finishing land conveyances would give Alaskans the opportunity to benefit from increased resource production and other forms of economic development across the state.
“We are sitting here 57 years after statehood, 45 years after the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. And we are still dealing with our land conveyances. I think it is fair to note that BLM made progress in 2015. But what we are seeing within this proposal is more than a 20 percent decrease from last year’s level. We still have about 5.3 million acres to convey. This is something that has lingered for so long. But when you think about any state’s ability to develop their lands, you cannot do it without title being conveyed.”
Murkowski noted that improving forest management and reducing the maintenance backlog in the National Park Service are places for collaboration between Congress and the Interior Department.
“I hope we can forge common ground despite the budget proposals offered here. We have a serious wildfire problem to tackle both in terms of budgeting and actual forest management,” Murkowski said. “I also think there is no better time to put the Park Service on a path to long-term viability than its 100th birthday. This is an opportunity for us to figure out how we can work through the backlog, so that we have a park system that we can all be proud of.”
Murkowski concluded Tuesday’s hearing by pressing Interior Secretary Jewell on the department’s continued failure to protect the people of King Cove, Alaska after it blocked a land exchange that would have provided community residents with reliable access to medical care in emergency situations. As was the case at last year’s budget hearing, Jewell was unaware of the number of medevacs that have been carried out since she rejected a life-saving road for local residents in December 2013. As of today, a total of 39 medevacs – including 14 by the U.S. Coast Guard – have been carried out over that span due to the absence of a short, one-lane, gravel, non-commercial use road.
Archived video and witness testimony is available on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee website.