Murkowski: Bill Will Bring Significant Benefits to Alaska

Provides Funding Stability and Economic Opportunities

The Senate today is voting on the omnibus appropriations legislation to fund the federal government through the remainder of Fiscal Year 2017. As a member of the Appropriations Committee and Chairman of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) was able to include provisions to address a wide range of challenges, needs, and opportunities in Alaska.

“This bill provides much-needed stability, protections, and opportunities for communities all across our state. It directs federal resources where they are needed most and gives opportunities for an economic boost in Alaska,” Murkowski said. “While I would have preferred to fund the government by passing appropriations measures on an individual basis, this funding bill includes many provisions to empower Alaskans to build our economy and create healthy communities.  This bill implements smart fiscal strategies and develops tools to support infrastructure that will lead to a more robust and stable economy that benefits not only Alaskans, but all Americans. I look forward to Congress passing this bill.”

[Click here for a comprehensive list and details of all Alaska-specific provisions in the bill.]

Supports the Military

The bill funds the design and construction of the new Long Range Discrimination Missile Defense Radar (LRDR) at Clear Air Force Station. It provides nearly a billion dollars in funds to sustain the missile defense interceptors at Fort Greely. It fully funds the administration’s 2017 request to manufacture the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter and also provides advance procurement funds to support the administration’s anticipated 2018 request. It reverses a downward trend in Army force structure and enables the Army to keep the 4/25 Airborne Brigade Combat Team (Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson) at full strength.  The bill also includes a $5 million addition sought by Senator Murkowski to support the Defense Department’s Innovative Readiness Training program which sponsors the Arctic Care health exercise, bringing military health professionals to rural villages each year and military engineers and constructors to assist in remote Alaska infrastructure projects. It includes a $10 million addition sought by Senator Murkowski to support state sponsored spaceports, including the Pacific Spaceport Alaska in Kodiak. It provides new investments in the Coast Guard (CG) that will increase safety in Alaska’s waters, such as infrastructure improvements to the CG docks in Kodiak to support homeporting Offshore Patrol Cutters in addition to continued funding for new cutters that will be stationed throughout Alaska.

Invests in Alaska’s Communities

The bill fully funds the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program at $465 million, which provides monetary compensation to local governments throughout Alaska for vital services, such as firefighting and police protection, construction of public schools and roads, and search-and-rescue operations.

The bill continues funding Essential Air Services, a critical program to Alaska that maintains commercial air services in approximately 60 small communities throughout the state. The legislation also allocates significant resources to the EPA’s program to construct or improve wastewater and drinking water systems in Native villages and throughout rural Alaska.

In addition, the bill enables the Denali Commission to continue to build infrastructure in rural Alaska, and be the lead agency in assisting environmentally threatened communities with issues such as coastal erosion.

Supports Healthy Communities

In many areas of rural Alaska, Community Health Centers are the only healthcare providers for hundreds of miles. This bill directs increased funding for Community Health Centers to facilitate expansion into providing behavioral health and substance abuse treatment. The bill also supports maintenance for Village Built Clinics, the backbone of Alaska’s rural health program and often the only source of medical care available to Alaskans in rural areas. The bill also fully funds the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) to continue to prevent and treat opioid addiction and substance abuse. The bill also supports health services for women by continuing funding Planned Parenthood.

Promotes Safer Communities

The bill also provides funding for important programs that help emergency responders react to natural hazards and inform the public. Increases for the earthquake hazards program will help states like Alaska develop and enhance earthquake monitoring capabilities. Other important funding increases will enhance the safety of activities such as aviation support, as well as enhanced support for Alaska mapping initiatives to help gather data to improve maps and provide forest managers with the tools and the resources they need to keep Alaskans safe and protect our land.

Support for our Native Communities

The bill fully funds the contract support costs in the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service. Important increases include funding for public safety and justice programs, tribal courts, social services, and natural resources. Within Indian Health Service, critical funds are provided for suicide prevention, domestic violence, and alcohol/substance abuse.

Addresses High Energy Costs

As Alaskans grapple with some of the highest home heating costs in the nation, the bill provides funding to improve the energy efficiency of low-income families’ homes and to invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy. The bill also allocates robust funds for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to help families with their home heating bills.

Revitalizes Southeast Timber

The omnibus approves the time-sensitive Alaska Mental Health Trust (AMHT) land exchange to conserve the scenic backgrounds of communities such as Ketchikan, Petersburg, Sitka, Wrangell, and Juneau; provide much-needed timber supply to Southeast timber mills; and provide benefits to vulnerable populations in Alaska. The exchanged AMHT lands will be added to the Tongass National Forest, and the lands AMHT receives may be used to generate funds for the mental health system. The timber harvesting that AMHT allows on some of its acquired lands will provide bridge timber that is urgently needed to keep current Southeast sawmills operating during the transition to more second-growth harvesting.

The bill includes language that requires the Secretary of Energy, the Secretary of Agriculture, and the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to jointly establish a policy for treating biomass as a carbon neutral energy source.  The language encourages the use of biomass as a renewable energy source.  By treating biomass as carbon neutral, the federal government is clarifying that biomass is a “green” fuel.  This should increase demand for biomass, which could help create new markets for Alaska’s timber industry.

Protects Alaska’s Fisheries and Oceans

The bill keeps in place the import ban on genetically engineered (GE) salmon Senator Murkowski secured last year.  Products containing GE salmon are not allowed into the market until the FDA develops labeling guidance to make consumers aware of what is contained in the products they are purchasing, consuming, and feeding their families. The bill also changes the acceptable market name of Brown King Crab to Golden King Crab, as it is commonly called throughout Alaska to assist with seafood marketing. Funding increases are also included for fisheries research, monitoring, and data collection as well as for Commissions tasked with making sure our fisheries are the most sustainable in the world.  

Support for our Environment

The bill protects clean air, water, and land. It increases funding to reduce the impact of marine debris on Alaska’s coasts and provide streamgages to monitor the quality of transboundary waters. The bill also directs the BIA and USGS to enter into a formal partnership with local tribes to develop a water quality strategy for transboundary rivers. It supports EPA targeted airshed grants to ensure that cities like Fairbanks have the resources to support wood stove change-outs to help reduce air pollution and to help comply with EPA air quality requirements. Furthermore, it supports the work of NOAA to keep Alaska’s waters and coasts safe for mariners and fishermen.

Murkowski is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and Chairman of the Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee.