Murkowski: Interior Bill will Bring Vast Benefits to Alaska

Chairmanship Ensures Priorities, Protections for State Included in Critical Legislation

WASHINGTON, D.C. –  Today U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) released her Fiscal Year  2017 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, which addresses a wide range of challenges, needs, and opportunities in Alaska. Among other advances, the bill makes significant strides in protecting our state from wildfires, improving access to Native healthcare, and reining in harmful federal regulations.

“With our state in the midst of a fiscal crisis, my Interior bill will provide much-needed stability, protections, and opportunities for communities all across our state. It directs federal resources where they are needed, while blocking excessive regulations that are causing harm and burying us in red tape,” Senator Murkowski said. “I am proud of the work we have done in this bill to empower Alaskans to build our economy and create healthy communities where we can access care for our families. We honor our trust responsibilities to Alaska Natives, and prioritize the clean-up of contaminated lands. As our state continues to be devastated by wildfires year after year, my bill also gives firefighters the resources they need to protect our lands and our people.”

Click here to listen to Murkowski introduce her Interior bill.

Prioritizing Alaska’s Needs

Murkowski’s bill will slow the regulatory onslaught from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and ensures the agency will work for Alaska, by providing resources for on the ground clean up and reducing the budget for controversial regulatory actions. The bill will facilitate clean, safe drinking water in local communities by supporting a program for water infrastructure projects. It blocks funding for an overreaching and burdensome regulation known as the Waters of the United States (or “WOTUS”) rule, which would have a severe impact on development projects ranging from individual homes to the Alaska gas pipeline. The bill restores Alaska’s rightful control over wildlife management in refuges by blocking a proposed rule from the Fish and Wildlife Service on hunting, trapping, and land access. It also facilitates a life-saving road for the isolated community of King Cove by requiring a land exchange between the federal government and the State. 

Investing in Alaska’s Communities

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. 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. 

The Interior bill also fully funds the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program at $480 million, well above last year’s funding levels. 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.

The bill also provides funding for important programs that help emergency responders respond 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 increases include additional funding for Alaska mapping initiatives that will help gather data to improve maps, thereby enhancing the safety of activities such as aviation.

Protecting Alaska’s Lands

Dozens of exploration wells and core tests that were drilled decades ago remain abandoned in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. Murkowski’s Interior bill nearly doubles the requested funding for legacy well cleanup in Fiscal Year 2017, and further directs the Bureau of Land Management to craft a long-term funding plan to complete the clean-up of the wells.

Murkowski’s bill also reforms broken federal wildfire funding practices to ensure that sufficient resources are available to fight catastrophic wildfires in Alaska and across the nation. It ends the destructive practice of “fire borrowing,” where land managers rob funds from non-fire programs like energy development and recreation to pay for the costs associated with wildfire. The bill also provides increases for preventative measures to decrease hazardous fuels and protect communities. In combination with the significant resources that Murkowski provided for this year’s fire season, the resources and investments made available by this bill lay the foundation to put wildfire spending on a path to sustainability.

The Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee controls funding levels for federal agencies and departments such as 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.

Related Issues: Alaska Natives & Rural Alaska