Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Sen. Murkowski attacks federal spending, urges gas line

JUNEAU-Sen. Lisa Murkowski told the Legislature on Thursday that a number of federal policies, which she said are often "overreaching" in scope, are working against Alaska's long-term interests. She said deficit-backed stimulus spending generally hasn't helped here or in other states.

Murkowski led her address to a joint session of the Legislature with a swing at last year's economic stimulus plan, saying it has failed to meet promised increases in unemployment. She said fiscal policies, when money has been spent, have amounted to unwise deficit spending. She instead recommended tort reform, streamlined regulatory regimes and tax incentives to spur long-term recovery.

But Murkowski also told reporters after her address that much of the stimulus plan has yet to get out the door, pointing to signs that only a fraction of an estimated $33 billion in Department of Energy stimulus money has been distributed. Those factors, she said, mean federal policymakers should await more information before approving a second stimulus plan, which some have called for soon.

"We the people are increasingly concerned with the mountain, the mountain, of debt this strategy imposes on the American people," Murkowski said.

She noted, according to an advance copy of her speech, the extensive federal land holdings in Alaska and said "federal regulations and restrictions restrain resource development throughout our state."

She also criticized "so-called public interest litigation groups," which she said "view Alaska as fertile ground to push the edges of environmental advocacy, without regard to the Alaskans who may be hurt by the outcome.

"These groups have long enjoyed a sympathetic ear in the San Francisco-based Ninth Circuit (Court of Appeals). And adding insult to injury, when they succeed in establishing gotcha precedents, U.S. taxpayers are required to pay their expenses. We will need a sea change in Congress to make it happen, but I will never drop my fight to move Alaska out of the Ninth Circuit."

She also said the the oil industry - the mainstay of state government funding in Alaska - is "under attack."

"It's not politically correct to champion domestic production these days, and it's something I've been attacked for on a personal level," she said. "I agree that over time, oil will, and should, steadily decline as a percentage of our total energy mix.

"I want our vehicles to be battery powered, I want to dramatically increase the use of renewable energy - whether wind, solar, geothermal or biomass. But by anyone's most optimistic estimates, America is going to need large amounts of oil and gas for decades to come."

Murkowski sounded a note of worry about the proposed North Slope natural gas pipeline to the Lower 48.

"[W]hile the window for a gasline remains open, that should not be read as an invitation to procrastinate," she said. "Maybe America can wait for Alaska's natural gas. Perhaps industry can wait. Alaska cannot wait. We can't wait because the other parts of our economy are not strong enough to carry the state. Without hydrocarbons, whether oil or gas, or some combination of the two, without a gas line, or a line to Southcentral, the balance is disrupted. And ultimately our economy will decline."

# # #

Source: By Christopher Eshleman. Originally published in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on February 19, 2010