Juneau Empire: Murkowski uses final energy committee meeting to oppose Aleutian monument

Sen. Lisa Murkowski used the final pre-election meeting of the U.S. Senate’s energy committee to send a message to President Barack Obama and his administration.

Murkowski, head of the committee, arranged for testimony on 21 bills, including six of her own. None are likely to become law, but she said that’s OK. Introducing them and hearing them in committee says exactly what her priorities are.

“Do I think that all six of these bills are going to be passed this year? No, I don’t,” she told reporters in a Thursday morning teleconference, then added, “There’s not too many months left, but there are things the executive can do on his way out.”

There’s also some things Murkowski would rather Obama didn’t do — in particular, establishing more national monuments in Alaska.

Establishing a national monument preserves an area of land and water, setting it off limits to things like mining, drilling and commercial fishing. Since national monuments can be established by executive order, they can be used as a quick way to protect an area from development.

To date, President Obama has proclaimed 553 million acres of national monuments.

“I have letters from fisheries groups, letters from the resource development groups, really kind of a wide variety of interests that have contacted me and said that we’re very concerned that in the final days of this administration, there may be a designation,” Murkowski said.

Of particular concern for commercial fishermen is a proposal by environmental scientist and retired UAA professor Rick Steiner to establish a national monument in waters off the Aleutian Islands.

S.437, one of the bills heard Thursday, was sponsored by Murkowski and would prohibit the president from declaring a national monument in federal waters without Congressional approval.

In testimony to the committee Thursday, Bureau of Land Management director Neil Kornze said he is not aware of any plans to proclaim a new national monument before the president leaves office early next year.

Despite that, Murkowski said it is important to let the Obama administration know that this issue is a priority for Alaskans.

“I think there was a very clear message today that monument designation would not be received well,” she said.

Also present at the hearing was Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska.

Among the other five bills sponsored by Murkowski are measures to improve early warning of volcanic eruptions, provide more oil for the trans-Alaska pipeline, build a road between King Cove and Cold Bay and improve land selections under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

Murkowski said that in the coming week, she expects Congress to devote itself to a budgetary measure to keep the federal government operating through December.

Once that is passed, Murkowski will return to Alaska for campaigning until Election Day in November. After the election, Murkowski will return to D.C. for a lame-duck session of Congress.

Link to the original article: http://juneauempire.com/state/2016-09-22/murkowski-uses-final-energy-committee-meeting-oppose-aleutian-monument

By:  James Brooks

Related Issues: Alaska's Fisheries, Energy