Murkowski Interior Bill Secures Big Wins for Alaska
Provides Economic Boost, Needed Investment in Health, Safety, and Lands
Both the Senate and House today passed a seven-bill appropriations package containing funding for the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2019. The package included U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski’s (R-AK) Interior-Environment bill, which passed both chambers and is a negotiated agreement that addresses a range of challenges, needs, and opportunities in Alaska. Senator Murkowski, chairman of the Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, secured provisions to strengthen Alaska’s economy, improve water and wastewater infrastructure, and create safer and healthier communities across the state.
The seven-bill funding package combines the FY 2019 Appropriations bills for Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration; Commerce, Justice, Science; Financial Services and General Government; Homeland Security; Interior and Environment; State and Foreign Operations; and Transportation, Housing and Urban Development.
“Plain and simple, this bill helps ensure the health, well-being, and safety of Alaskans. In a time of fiscal uncertainty, it is pivotal that we provide stability where Alaskans need it most— in our communities and in our economy,” said Senator Murkowski. “I’m proud of what we’ve done with this bill to empower Alaskans to fight back against the opioid epidemic, provide for vital services, develop new infrastructure, and improve our ability to prevent and respond to natural disasters. This bill is a significant investment in the livelihood of all Alaskans and will have a lasting impact on our state.”
Click here for a full list of Alaska-related provisions and funding levels in the Interior-Environment bill.
Water and Wastewater Infrastructure
The bill provides $2.8 billion to improve wastewater and drinking water systems through the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) State Water Revolving Funds program and $25 million for a new grant program, to help bring basic water and sewer infrastructure to communities in need. The bill also includes $25 million for EPA’s Alaska Native Villages Water program for the construction of new drinking water and wastewater systems, or the improvement of existing systems in rural Alaskan communities. In an effort to provide infrastructure upgrades for tribal communities throughout Alaska, funding is maintained at $192 million for the Indian Health Service’s (IHS) Sanitation Facilities Construction program, providing American Indian and Alaska Native homes and communities with essential water supply, sewage disposal, and solid waste disposal facilities.
The bill provides funding for important programs that help emergency responders respond to and inform the public about natural hazards and disasters. Funding for the earthquakes hazard program will allow Alaska to develop and enhance earthquake monitoring capabilities. The bill also includes $30.2 million for the U.S. Geological Survey’s volcano hazards program.
Preventing and Responding to Wildfires
The bill fully funds the 10-year average cost of our nation’s wildfire suppression needs, and provides additional resources to the Forest Service in the event of catastrophic wildfires. Murkowski also increased investments in the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service for preventative measures that can be made in advance of wildfire season, such as hazardous fuels reduction and fuel breaks.
The bill maintains funding for Alaska mapping initiatives at $7.7 million, which will help gather data to improve maps, enhancing the safety of activities such as aviation.
Payment in Lieu of Taxes
Provides $500 million, full funding for the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program, which 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, search-and-rescue operations, and the construction of public schools and roads.
Maintains Tribal Court funding at $13 million to Public Law 280 states, such as Alaska, in order to help develop tribal court systems for communities. Provides $2 million for training and specific VAWA tribal court needs. Through the Small and Needy Tribes program, direct support is provided to ensure all tribes have a base level of support to run tribal governments –Alaska receives the largest share of this funding. $15 million is provided for the Tiwahe Initiative program to help communities design a comprehensive approach for the delivery of social services and justice programs.
Health and Wellness
Fighting Abuse and Addiction
The bill establishes a new grant program through Indian Health Service (IHS) which provides $10 million to help tribes fight back against opioid abuse, $8.2 million is provided through the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), to fight opioid addiction. To help address the problem of opioid over-prescription, the bill requires a report on both federal and tribal pharmacy compliance with state Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs.
The bill also contains significant resources that will help combat domestic violence, substance abuse, and suicide. Increased funding, totaling $245 million, is included for alcohol and substance abuse prevention programs aimed at increasing behavioral health services and prevention programming for tribal youth and incorporating more holistic healthcare models. Funding increases included in the last fiscal year’s funding bill are maintained for substance abuse disorders, mental health disorders, suicide, violence, and behavior-related chronic diseases among American Indians and Alaska Natives.
Healing through the Arts
Supports the National Endowment for the Arts’ (NEA) 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.
Improving Healthcare Facilities
The bill provides the fully projected need for staffing of new facilities, including $57.3 million for a new facility operated by the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation in Bethel.
Through the Small Ambulatory Clinics program, the bill provides $15 million to make infrastructure improvements to provide healthcare delivery to Alaska Natives. The bill provides $36 million for Village Built Clinics and other tribally leased facilities providing healthcare under the Indian Self Determination Act. The Village Built Clinic program is unique to Alaska and supports approximately 150 healthcare clinics in rural areas, many of which require intensive maintenance and often serve as the only health facility and source of medical care in the respective region. The bill also includes increases to provide for the construction, maintenance, and improvement of sanitation facilities and healthcare facility construction.
Caring for Our Youth
For the first time, the bill provides funding for the Commission on Native Children created to identify the complex challenges facing Native children in Alaska and across the country by conducting an intensive study on issues such as high rates of poverty, unemployment, child abuse, domestic violence, crime, substance abuse, and dire economic conditions. Senator Murkowski, along with former Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, sponsored legislation which created the Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children.
Fulfilling Federal Promises
The IHS and BIA play a vital role in Alaska. 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.
Construction and Deferred Maintenance
The bill prioritizes infrastructure improvements on our nation’s public lands. Both the construction and deferred maintenance budgets continue to receive increases to address the National Park Service’s maintenance backlog, building upon their historic increases from the year prior. These are priorities for our national parks, as maintaining park infrastructure is key to both local visitors and the tourism sector. The bill also increases funding for Forest Service recreation activities – including cabins, trails, and recreation – and provides more resources for special use permitting programs that allow certain businesses to operate in Alaska’s national forests.
Cleaning Up Contaminated Lands
Dozens of exploration wells and core tests that were drilled by the federal government decades ago remain abandoned in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. This bill provides $9.5 million for legacy well cleanup, and further directs the Bureau of Land Management to craft a long-term funding plan to complete the clean-up of the wells within ten years.
- In June 2018, the Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously passed the FY 2019 Interior-Environment Appropriations bill.
- In August 2018, the Senate passed a four-bill funding package containing the FY 2019 Interior-Environment bill by a vote of 92-6. This was the first time the Interior bill was considered on the Senate floor, including final passage, in eight years.
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.
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