Senator Murkowski meets, greets Sotomayor

WASHINGTON — Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, came away impressed from a “meet and greet” meeting last week with Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“She is a very thoughtful woman and clearly very learned,” Murkowski told reporters after the one-hour private conversation with Sotomayor.
“She is a woman who feels passionate about learning and the law,” Murkowski added.
Sotomayor has never been to Alaska but she expressed interest in visiting the state and learning more about Alaska laws, Murkowski said.
“She had drafted a Law Review note on public lands and territories. She really was quite animated,” Murkowski said.
Sotomayor described in detail her way of processing information in a case before coming to a decision, Murkowski said.
They discussed Second Amendment gun rights and the heavy caseload of the appeals courts, but did not talk about specific Alaska cases, Murkowski said.
“I kind of prefaced my question about the Second Amendment,” Murkowski said. “In a state like Alaska, independent people are very passionate about many things but most certainly, they’re supportive of the Second Amendment.”
Murkowski said she will review Sotomayor’s legal opinions and background before deciding how she will vote on the nomination.
Murkowski and Sotomayor posed for a large group of photographers with their legs propped up on a footstool. Murkowski is recovering from knee surgery after a skiing accident and Sotomayor recently sprained her ankle.
Murkowski first met Sotomayor a few days ago when the nominee was trying to get into her car at the Capitol. The senator stopped to commiserate about leg injuries and to suggest some coping mechanisms.
Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, is scheduled to meet with Sotomayor next week, according to an aide, and has not decided how he will vote.
The Obama administration has urged the Senate to act on the issue before adjourning for its month-long summer recess on August 7. Hearings on the nomination are scheduled to begin in July.
The Alaska congressional delegation often tries to lure members of Congress to the state for on-site inspections so they can familiarize themselves with the landscape and unique conditions.
Begich is using a new angle to persuade senators to visit Alaska this August — see global warming in action.
“Since the day I arrived in the Senate, my colleagues have been suggesting a trip to Greenland to witness climate change first-hand,” Begich said. “I keep reminding them that Alaska is ground zero for the impacts of global warming.”
Begich added, “I’m confident their visit will be an eye-opener and help shape national legislation on this vital issue.”
The delegation will view erosion in the Yukon-Kuskokwim region and climate change impacts on glaciers and forests in Southcentral Alaska.
The group also will tour the North Slope to inspect oil and gas development and observe climate change effects, and visit the Kenai Peninsula to see spruce bark beetle infested forests and receding glaciers.
Begich said the response to his invitation has been strong. Further details will be announced later in the summer.
Murkowski, the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said she will try again on the Senate floor to increase domestic energy production. Her efforts were stymied by Democrats as the committee wrapped up several weeks of work to draft a comprehensive energy bill.
Murkowski voted for the bill, which cleared the panel by a 15-8 vote, because it contains several provisions that benefit Alaska.
It boosts the federal loan guarantee for the Alaska natural gas pipeline to $30 billion. It also allows the use of the Federal Financing Bank to finance the gas line, which would cut administrative costs and interest rates on the loan by hundreds of millions of dollars.
The committee defeated a Murkowski amendment to allow directional drilling technology to retrieve oil and gas from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The panel also rejected amendments to share federal revenue from offshore drilling with coastal states.
“Overall, this bill represents a balanced compromise that will improve our national energy policy,” Murkowski said.
The bill also would:
• establish a one-stop federal permitting office in Alaska to regulate offshore oil and gas activity.
• grant a right-of-way through Denali National Park and Preserve for an in-state gas line.
• authorize the Arctic Energy Office research center at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and expand the scope of its research.
• extend federal research into the use of methane hydrates as an energy source.
• exempts the Trans Alaska Pipeline System from being declared a national historic landmark, which would allow it to be dismantled when it is no longer used, and would simplify design issues for a natural gas pipeline.
Murkowski took on another role last week as she shifted subcommittees on the Senate Appropriations Committee and joined the panel that oversees homeland security and the U.S. Coast Guard.
The subcommittee also oversees funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Transportation Security Administration.
Murkowski gave up a spot on the Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee.

By:  Betty Mills