Murkowski Emphasizes Interior Military Concerns at Senate Appropriations Hearing

Air Force Says Coal-to-Liquid Plant at Eielson Still Under Consideration

WASHINGTON, D.C. - A top Air Force official today told U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, that a coal-to-liquid plant at Eielson Air Force Base is still under consideration.

Murkowski questioned Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations Terry Yonkers about the issue at a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Military Construction Subcommittee.

"We've heard that the concept of coal-to-liquids, which was really quite popular in the last administration, has kind of now gone out of vogue with this administration," Murkowski said. "The question to you this morning is whether the Air Force intends to pursue a coal-to-liquids plant at Eielson and what is the timeline there for any decision?"

Yonkers said the Air Force is conducting feasibility and financial viability studies and also conducting a business case analysis to see if an enhanced base-use lease may be appropriate and financially viable.

"In conjunction with that, the civil engineering squadron there is looking at the mission impacts and environmental impact analysis to pull that information together," he said. "And the Air Force research labs down at Wright-Patterson are considering things such as carbon sequestration and how that will play among the energy alternatives as we look at whether coal-to-liquid is really a viable option there at Eielson."

Once all that information is assembled, said Yonkers, "if we do in fact find that it's a viable alternative, our intent is to get with the Department of Defense, along with we hope some prospective developers and companies that would be interested in implementing this, and then go from there."

The Air Force received $10 million in Fiscal Year 2009 to support efforts in siting and contracting for a coal to liquids plant at Eielson Air Force Base.

Murkowski also used the hearing to make a pitch for basing the new generation of air refueling tankers, the so-called KC-X, at the Air National Guard's 168th Air Refueling Wing at Eielson. The 168th Air Refueling Wing, which is the only Arctic region refueling unit in the Air Force, holds the distinction of transferring more fuel than any other Air National Guard tanker group. Its primary mission is to refuel active duty aircraft on operational missions in the Pacific area of operations.

While the Air Force has yet to determine who will manufacture the next generation tanker, it has already begun to formulate a nationwide evaluation process to determine which bases will receive the new aircraft. Major General Carl Moisio, Deputy Director of the Air National Guard, told Murkowski that the process will be open, transparent and fair. He characterized the process as similar to the process that the Air Force used in determining initial sites for F-35 basing.

Murkowski said afterwards, "The Air Force's use of the same process it relied upon in F-35 basing to determine future sites for the KC-X tanker concerns me. The Alaska congressional delegation and the Interior Alaska community were convinced by the Air Force that Eielson would be highly competitive for the F-35, only to be disappointed when the rankings came out last year. We need to stay on top of this process, and I plan to engage in extensive dialogue with the Air Force to ensure that Eielson retains its preeminent role in aircraft refueling in the decades to come."

Murkowski also remains concerned about the use of out of state construction contractors and construction workers imported from the Lower 48 to work on building privatized housing at Fort Wainwright under the Army's Residential Communities Initiatives program. She raised the issue with Joseph F. Calcara, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations and Housing.

Calcara said that between 75 and 85 percent of the privatized housing construction projects in Alaska have gone to small, local businesses but conceded that some of the businesses that claim to be local and hold Alaska contractors licenses may be headquartered in the Lower 48 and hire from outside Alaska. "To the extent that someone who's locally licensed wants to hire someone from Washington state to work in Alaska on a project, there's really not much we can do about that," Calcara told Murkowski.

Murkowski pledged to continue to pursue the issue with the Fort Wainwright privatization partner, Actus Lend Lease, and the Defense Department. "It is hard to believe that importing a construction contractor and workforce from the South or Midwest to construct houses on Fort Wainwright is efficient," she said. "The people of Interior Alaska support our military like no other. I believe that the military is obligated to return the favor by ensuring that construction work on Alaska's military bases goes to Alaskans."

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