Murkowski: Interior Bill Benefits Alaska

Major Investments to Prioritize Health, Develop Infrastructure and Improve Safety

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) today outlined the benefits for Alaska in the 2018 government funding bill currently before Congress. As chairman of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, Murkowski’s portion of the bill makes significant strides in developing infrastructure projects, improving access to Native healthcare, and reducing the National Park Service’s maintenance backlog.

“I am proud of the work we have done in this Interior appropriations bill to empower Alaskans to build our economy and create healthy communities for our families. These investments will have a lasting impact on our state. I believe it is our responsibility to lay the foundations now to ensure future generations of Alaskans will have the stability and tools needed to succeed. From protecting the critical infrastructure that has fueled Alaska’s economy, to placing the highest priority on the health and basic necessities of our Alaskan communities, we are working to ensure the best future for Alaskans,” said Senator Murkowski. “With so much fiscal uncertainty out there, now more than ever, stability and certainty are what Alaskans need. In this bill, we direct federal resources where they are needed by investing in programs aimed to protect our land and people, enable new infrastructure projects to boost the economy, and help communities provide vital services.”  

Investing in Alaska’s Communities

The Interior bill provides $530 million for the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program. The PILT program provides monetary compensation to local governments throughout Alaska that contain federal lands that are not subject to state or local taxation. The revenue helps local governments provide vital services, such as firefighting and police protection, construction of public schools and roads, and search-and-rescue operations. Last year, PILT received $465 million.

Essential to many communities and school districts located near federal forests in Alaska, particularly in the southeast part of the state, the bill also funds the Secure Rural Schools program for two years.

Preventing, Monitoring, and Responding to Disasters

The bill provides funding for important programs that help emergency responders respond to natural hazards and disasters, while informing the public of their dangers. Support for the earthquake hazards program will help states like Alaska develop and enhance earthquake monitoring capabilities while additional funding included in the bill will also help bring volcano monitoring equipment into compliance.

The bill also maintains funding for Alaska mapping initiatives that will help gather data to improve maps, thereby enhancing the safety of activities such as aviation.

Developing Water and Wastewater Infrastructure

The bill provides $340 million for Indian Health Service’s infrastructure needs, including a $90 million increase for the sanitation facilities construction program which provides American Indian and Alaska Native homes and communities with essential water supply, sewage disposal, and solid waste disposal facilities.  This amount also includes $125 million for hospital construction.

The legislation allocates significant resources to the EPA’s programs to construct or improve wastewater and drinking water systems in Native villages and throughout rural Alaska. 

The bill funds a new grant program, created by U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan over a year ago and never before funded, to help bring basic water and sewer to communities in need. Through the Indian Health Service’s Sanitation Facilities Construction program, funding is provided for infrastructure upgrades for tribal communities throughout Alaska.

Supporting Health and Wellness

The $498 million increase for Indian Health Service is the largest increase in this annual appropriations bill, ever. The Indian Health Service and Bureau of Indian Affairs play a vital role in Alaska, especially when it comes to providing healthcare for Alaska Natives. Murkowski’s bill fulfills the federal promises made to Alaska Natives by allocating full funding for Contract Support Costs, the operational costs of tribes to deliver services including federal Indian health programs. The bill further supports maintenance for Village Built Clinics, which are the backbone of Alaska’s rural health program and often the only source of medical care available to Alaskans in rural areas.

Alaskans have some of the highest healthcare costs in the country and the most limited access to care. This bill addresses those challenges by supporting Village Built Clinics, a program unique to Alaska that supports 150 healthcare clinics in rural areas, which often serve as the only health facility in the respective region. Through the Small Ambulatory Clinics program, the bill also provides additional resources to make infrastructure improvements across the nation for providing health care delivery to American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Prioritizing Energy and Public Lands

The bill prioritizes infrastructure improvements on our nation’s public lands. It includes a historic $180 million increase for National Park Service construction and deferred maintenance, the largest percentage increase ever in this annual appropriations bill.

Funding is included for the Minerals Resources Program, which includes assessments in the NPR-A. The bill also prohibits the EPA from shutting down small, remote incinerators in Alaska that are important for waste management for energy producers on the North Slope. 

Dozens of exploration wells and core tests that were drilled decades ago remain abandoned in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. Murkowski’s Interior bill increases funding for legacy well cleanup to $10 million, and further directs the Bureau of Land Management to craft a long-term funding plan to complete the clean-up of the wells.

Honoring and Caring for Alaska’s Veterans 

The bill supports the efforts of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to expand the Healing Arts Program, developed by the NEA and the Department of Defense (DoD) to help our nation’s wounded and injured service members and their families in their transition into civilian life. In 2016, Senator Murkowski announced that Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER) was selected as a new site to offer the creative art therapy program to help returning service members in dealing with traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress, and other health conditions.

The bill also designates 2.6 million acres of existing federal wilderness located within the Lake Clark National Park and Preserve as the “Jay S. Hammond Wilderness”, named after former Governor Jay Hammond, a decorated World War II Marine Corps fighter pilot.

Click here for a list of additional Alaska provisions included in the Interior bill portion of the Omnibus Appropriations Act. 

The Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee controls funding levels for federal agencies and departments including the Department of the Interior (DOI), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Forest Service (FS), National Park Service (NPS), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), and Indian Health Service (IHS). Murkowski, as Chairman, is able to write the Senate’s annual appropriations bill for the Subcommittee.