Senator Murkowski Questions Secretary Zinke over Interior Budget

Secretary’s 100-Year Outlook Approach to Improving Public Lands Management

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) chaired an Interior Appropriations Subcommittee hearing today, examining the Fiscal Year 2019 budget request for the Department of the Interior. During the hearing, Senator Murkowski addressed budget priorities from public access and land conveyance needs to disaster warning systems and maintenance backlogs.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testified on the Department of Interior’s effort to examine how to best manage our public lands, taking a 100-year outlook.

“Public lands is not a Republican or a Democrat or red or blue issue. It’s a red, white and blue issue. Public lands should bring us all together for the benefit of our great public lands,” said Interior Secretary Zinke. “The budget supports one of the administration’s promises in a big way, rebuilding our National Parks’ infrastructure. It calls for the largest investment in the history of this country to public lands, in specific, our park service or our Indian schools and our wildlife refuge system. As we all agree on, our public lands are our greatest treasures, but they have suffered serious neglect over the years.”

Secretary Zinke noted Interior’s deferred maintenance backlog is currently $16 billion dollars, which includes $11.7 billion from the National Park Service, $1.2 billion in the wildlife refuge system, and just under $1 billion for Indian schools. The Interior Department’s budget request proposes to establish a new public lands infrastructure fund to address the multi-billion dollar maintenance backlog at our nation’s parks, refuges, and Bureau of Indian schools. 

“We made significant investments in deferred maintenance across the Department in the FY 2018 omnibus appropriations bill.  The National Park Service Construction account received a $150 million increase – the largest annual percentage increase ever for this appropriation – and funds were provided to the other land management agencies as well.  The Bureau of Indian Affairs was provided an additional $162 million – including $105 million for education construction, $24 million to re-start the facilities replacement and construction program to improve public safety in Indian Country, and $31 million to replace badly outdated dams and irrigation systems,” said Senator Murkowski. “I know the omnibus was passed just over a month ago and the Department is still working on the spending plans for the individual bureaus to submit to the Committee. We hope to see those details soon, because the fiscal year is passing quickly and it’s important to get these resources on the ground.”

Senator Murkowski asked specific questions regarding concerns for Alaskans: (Click headlines to watch videos)

  • Denali National Park’s Polychrome Pass: As Denali tops the list in Alaska affected by the deferred maintenance backlog, Murkowski asked for a long-term fix for Polychrome Pass, the most dangerous part of Denali Park Road.
  • Cooper Landing Bypass: Murkowski questioned the Secretary on the status of a land exchange on a bypass for the Sterling Highway near Cooper Landing, moving traffic away from the Kenai and Russian Rivers, the spawning ground for Alaska’s largest king salmon.
  • Cleanup of Contaminated Wells: Murkowski explained the need to properly clean up legacy wells, a federal responsibility that has been ignore for far too long, asking how long it will take to complete the cleanup of remaining legacy wells in Alaska.
  • BOEM Environmental Work: As BOEM is requesting additional funding and personnel resources to allow for the planning and implementation of the new Five-Year OCS program, Murkowski asked how the bureau will prioritize environmental work that needs to be done and if it will continue to utilize research partnerships such as the Alaska Coastal Marine Institute at UAF.
  • U.S. Geological Survey Natural Hazards: As Alaska is the most seismically active state in the nation, Murkowski questioned the Secretary on the purchase of earthquake monitor systems as well as funding to upgrade volcano monitor systems from analog to digital.
  • Trust Responsibilities: Murkowski lauded the Secretary’s decision to support Tara Sweeney’s nomination to be Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and spoke on ensuring the Department of the Interior does enough to meet trust responsibilities to our Native people.