U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today chaired the nomination hearing for President-elect Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of the Interior (Interior), Congressman Ryan Zinke, R-Mont. Over the course of the hearing, Murkowski highlighted many energy, resource, and lands issues important to Alaska and the nation, stressing the importance of a cooperative approach between Congress and Interior.
In her opening statement, Murkowski raised a series of decisions that the Obama administration’s Interior Department has made that negatively impact Alaskans’ ability to access federal areas and engage in reasonable activities such as energy production.
“[Alaskans] have lost access to lands and waters that even President Carter promised would be open to us. We’ve had our long-standing right to manage wildlife within our borders ripped away. We’ve seen projects halted through the delay or the denial of vital permits,” Murkowski said. “For eight years, it seemed that this administration has taken the approach that Alaska has to be protected from Alaskans, and they’ve acted accordingly.”
Murkowski also made clear what she and Alaskans expect from the federal government, indicating the importance of fulfilling promises made to Alaska at statehood and since then, as well as her desire for a collaborative partnership between the federal government and local communities.
“We have promises that were made to our state at statehood that remain unfulfilled. Promises made pursuant to ANCSA, promises made to our Native veterans. Ensuring that our federal government honors those commitments to Alaskans remains one of my highest priorities,” Murkowski said.
During her first round of questioning, Murkowski received a commitment from Zinke that he would review all of the Obama administration’s actions that took resource-bearing lands and waters in Alaska off the table and determine whether they should be reversed. In her second round of questioning, Murkowski highlighted Alaska’s “no more” clauses under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), pressed Zinke to fulfill promises made to Native Vietnam veterans regarding their land allotments, and urged him to restore the State of Alaska’s right to manage fish and game within its borders.
“I understand that, while you may not have worked that much on subsistence issues, given the importance of this issue to Alaska, I need to have your commitment for a formal review with the Park Service and with Fish and Wildlife Service on their regulations and to work with the State of Alaska to get us to a better place, when it comes to an approach to the fish and game management decisions within the state,” Murkowski said.
In her final round of questions, Murkowski reiterated the importance of ensuring that King Cove’s residents finally gain reliable access to emergency medical transportation.
“The fine people of King Cove have been fighting this fight for over three decades. They have been let down repeatedly by their federal government,” Murkowski said. “They do not trust their federal government because they have been told there is higher value to the animals and the birds than there is to their human life.”
A total of 55 medevacs have been carried out in King Cove since December 2013, when the outgoing Interior Secretary rejected a short, gravel, life-saving road for the remote community.
Murkowski is chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. An archived video and witness testimony from today’s hearing are available on the committee's website.