Sen. Murkowski: Admin.’s Mitigation Memo Causing Confusion, Mistrust

Raises Concerns that Directive Would Halt Responsible Resource Development

March 15, 2016
06:30 PM

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today questioned the Obama administration on the purpose and effects of President Obama’s memorandum, entitled Mitigating Impacts on Natural Resources from Development and Encouraging Related Private Investment, released late last year. The Memorandum’s expansion of  mitigation principles coupled with its vagueness raises questions that it will simply elongate an already lengthy permitting process, and, at worst, encourage agencies to shut down development completely, despite claims that it intends to facilitate project approvals. 


“As a federal practice, ‘mitigation’ has become a tool that too often causes resource development projects to cost more and proceed slowly, if at all. For Alaskans seeking any form of development, whether a road, a mine, or of any energy resource, mitigation has almost become a household word,” Murkowski said. “The Memorandum has already led to confusion, mistrust, and, in Alaska at least, even fear – rather than the clarity and streamlining it advertises.  Therefore, we will act swiftly to continue oversight on this topic, and to ensure that it does not become yet another obstacle to responsible development.”

Murkowski, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, pressed the administration on the Memorandum. 

“With this memorandum, many fear that development will become an exercise in ‘pay to play.’ And only the largest businesses with the most clearly profitable or most highly favored projects will be able to afford that unfair game,” Murkowski said. “The administration will deny this and insist that its goal is to facilitate balance, efficiency, interagency coordination, and consistency across agencies that manage federal land, especially as they issue permits for development.”

Murkowski heard from her home state of Alaska about the uncertainty and lack of clarity in the President’s memorandum and how it would affect economic development on federal lands. Ms. Sara Longan, Executive Director of the Office of Project Management and Permitting at Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources, called the administration’s memorandum on mitigation a step in the wrong direction.

“We have strong concern that the memo does not seem to provide guidance on how non-federal lands might be impacted. We understand that this memo is set forth to establish mitigation goals which we strongly support. However, we also understand that the decision making is delegated to the federal agencies. Multiple federal agencies are listed in this memorandum. They are responsible for making those decisions where regulations do not exist. And they are the ones who will require how or if compensatory mitigation will impact state, native corporation, tribal, or private lands. This is concerning to us.”

In February, Murkowski sent a bipartisan letter with 18 of her Senate colleagues raising concerns about the impacts of the administration’s memorandum. When Murkowski questioned the administration at today’s hearing about the letter and a possible response, administration officials appeared unprepared. They were  unable to respond on behalf of the administration

Murkowski found the lack of a clear and specific response troubling given the potentially devastating impacts that policies developed pursuant to the Memorandum could have on resource development, grazing, timber harvesting, and many other activities in states, such as Alaska, where federal lands are concentrated. Although the committee extended an offer to The White House Council on the Environmental Quality, the author of this Memorandum, to testify Tuesday, it declined.