Murkowski Questions Interior Secretary on Alaska Specific Priorities
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) chaired an Interior Appropriations Subcommittee hearing to examine the Fiscal Year 2021 budget request for the Department of the Interior (DOI). During the hearing, Senator Murkowski raised Alaska specific priorities with Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, such as the Alaska land conveyance program, justice and public safety initiatives, and expanding energy and mineral security, including unlocking onshore Arctic resources in ANWR and NPRA-A. Murkowski questioned Bernhardt on critical deferred maintenance needs that must be met in order to mitigate and prevent negative economic consequences, as well as what resources are needed to adequately address leasing obligations.
“The Interior Department administers many programs that impact and improve the lives of Alaskans, and I thank Secretary Bernhardt for being a reliable partner. However, there is always more work to be done,” said Senator Murkowski. “In Alaska, federal land makes up over 60 percent of the state; the Department oversees the majority of those lands and is responsible for developing our abundant natural resources, providing assistance to our tribal communities, addressing climate change impacts, and much more. The Department’s budget request addresses many of these responsibilities, but falls short in addressing others. Like with every President’s budget request, this is a proposal and Congress will work together to enact the final budget for the Department.”
Senator Murkowski asked how the Department of Interior is addressing a mandate for payments of leasing costs under section 105(l) of the Indian Self Determination Act when tribal facilities are used to operate tribal programs, including details on the number and type of lease agreements. Specifically, Murkowski asked how the Interior Department is estimating the future needs for the lease costs. Secretary Bernhardt explained that current budgetary estimates are based off of current engagement and potential interest in projects, but that in his view the Department is a long ways from being able to tell what the budgetary impact of these lease agreement will mean. He committed to Senator Murkowski that he would work with her on this issue moving forward.
During the hearing, Senator Murkowski also raised maintenance issues of the Denali Park Road, the only way to drive into Denali National Park and Preserve. Murkowski spoke to current efforts of the Park Service to prepare the road for a safe and timely opening and the importance of finding a long-term solution—whether that is stabilization or re-routing—in order to maintain access to the park and in-holders at the end of the road.
“The Denali Road is a big challenge, and not just because it is important to the Park, but because it is important to the entire state. The road is an anchor for visitors coming to Alaska by land and sea. We saw late last year that even the suggestion that the road might be inaccessible creates an unfortunate economic ripple across the state of Alaska,” Murkowski said. “Will you work with me to ensure the Park Service at every level is doing what is necessary to ensure the Denali Park Road remains safe and accessible, both in the short and long-term?”
Secretary Bernhardt committed to working with Murkowski and expressed his desire to find a workable solution.
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), as well as NEH, NEA, and the Smithsonian Institution (SI).