Murkowski Questions Proposed Budget for Interior Department

WASHINGTON, D.C. --   U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today made the following statement during the Department of Interior fiscal year 2012 budget hearing in the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee:

“Chairman Bingaman, thank you for scheduling this hearing.

“Before we begin, I would like to note with sadness the recent passing of former Chairman Jim McClure. Chairman McClure’s strong work ethic and sense of fairness is a vital part of this Committee’s legacy. He was one of a long line of chairmen who have sustained the tradition of the Energy Committee as forum for the fair consideration and resolution of serious policy debates that continues to this day. I would like to extend my sympathy to his family and many friends.  He will not be forgotten, but he will be greatly missed. 

“Secretary Salazar, thank you for being here to discuss the President’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2012.  Much has changed in our nation’s political landscape and in the international arena since the last time you testified here.  And I must say – I’m deeply concerned that the budget proposal before us today seems to be from that time. 

“Many of the Department of the Interior’s recommendations ignore our current reality – among other things, a $1.6 trillion dollar federal deficit, and rising unrest that has spiked oil prices to the point where our economic recovery could be threatened.  Instead of addressing those challenges, the Department is seeking to expand the role and “footprint” of the federal government, increase taxpayers’ liability for maintenance, and place more land off limits to recreation and resource exploration.

“There are a few things I would like to specifically address here today.  First on my list is the Department’s new “Wild Lands” policy.  Your Order has vast potential to lock up and limit access to lands throughout the country, but particularly in Alaska, where two-thirds of our land is owned by the Federal Government. 

“On its face, the “Wild Lands” policy appears to be a workaround of limitations in the Wilderness Act.  Interior has also specifically stated that BLM land which was previously dedicated for a specific purpose, like the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, will be reevaluated and could be designated as “Wild Lands”.  So it appears that Interior not only wants to take control over land designations away from Congress, but also intends to review and perhaps overrule past congressional decisions.

“There are serious questions about the wisdom of the proposed increases in so many taxes and fees, across the board, on the energy companies we’re responsible for regulating, and whether that’s really more likely to result in the law being carried out in the expeditious manner Congress has demanded. Given the deeply troubling situations in Libya, Bahrain, and Iraq, there is little, if any, patience for continued delay in bringing back our American energy production and the associated jobs.

“Another proposal that seriously troubles me is the full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund under the category of the America’s Great Outdoors initiative.  Given the pressing need to balance our budget, I have to question this spending.  Each land management agency within the Department of the Interior already has a sizeable maintenance backlog.  The National Park Service alone is at $9 billion.  If we cannot afford to manage the land that we already have entrusted to the federal government, then it is irresponsible to acquire more. 

“Finally, on a more parochial note, I am very concerned that the Department has recommended a 54 percent reduction in the Alaska Conveyance Program.  This program, which is required by the Alaska Land Conveyance Acceleration Act of 2004, works to fulfill the promise made to Alaska’s Native people when Alaska entered the union.  It has been 40 years since the original law was signed.  With the funding that was provided to the BLM last year, you suggested it would take another 20 years to complete the conveyances.

“Given that most of those people waiting for their conveyances will now have to wait 40 to 50 more years at this proposed funding level, I’m not only going to ask you to explain this choice here, today – I’m also going to ask you to come to Alaska and explain to the people who have waited patiently for so many years why they should now wait forty or fifty more. 

“Secretary Salazar, you have certainly lived in interesting times since you became Secretary of the Interior.  You have been presented with many difficult dilemmas.  I know many of the members of this Committee share my concerns, so I look forward to hearing your side of the story and discussing these issues with you in greater detail.”