Murkowski Releases Interior Bill, Addresses Alaska Needs

Ranking Republican Shares Results of FY2014 Senate Interior Appropriations Bill Negotiations

WASHINGTON, DC — Senator Lisa Murkowski is proud to share the results of her negotiations with Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Jack Reed (D-RI) through the release of today’s draft FY 2014 Senate Interior Appropriations Bill.  With the Department of the Interior managing a majority of Alaska’s lands, forests and waters – in addition to providing oversight of many services and programs for Alaska Natives and tribes – Murkowski was able to leverage her position as Ranking Republican on the Committee to prioritize Alaska’s marine concerns, Alaska Native health care needs, legacy wells and resource development, and public safety from natural disasters like wildfires and volcanoes.

“While I believe the bill we released today can and will be improved through some responsible and targeted cuts more in line with spending caps required by law, it addresses core Alaskan priorities,” said Murkowski.  “I plan to work through the process with my Senate colleagues and the House to strike the right balance in living within our means and advancing Alaska’s needs.”

Alaska Native Health

Staffing Packages – While a number of new Indian Health Centers have opened up in recent years through proactive funding and construction efforts, the federal government has been sluggish in providing ‘staffing package’ funding for the clinics and hospitals to hire professionals necessary to keep them running.  Senator Murkowski has toured the Southcentral Foundation, Tanana Chiefs and Norton Sound facilities in the past year, and will be at the grand opening of the Samuel Simmonds Memorial Hospital in Barrow in August.  She was able to work with committee members to responsibly fund staffing packages nationwide, with $66.2M directed to Alaska’s facilities.

  • Southcentral Foundation, $1l.2M
  • Norton Sound, $8.4M
  • Tanana Chiefs, $20.1M
  • Barrow, $12.5M
  • Copper River, $3.5M
  • Kenaitze, $10.6M

Contract Support Costs (CSCs) – The Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDEA) of 1975 required the federal government not only cover the expenses of health clinics, hospitals and programs, but also the administrative costs of carrying out these services.  CSCs represent “the core of our nation’s federal trust relationship with Indian tribes,” Murkowski told Interior Secretary Sally Jewell earlier this year. The current administration budget proposal attempts to circumvent a recent Supreme Court ruling recognizing this responsibility by funding less than full contract cost estimates for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service.  While the bill includes the President’s funding request, Senator Murkowski made sure that language was included pressing the Administration for a plan for the future and criticizing the Administration for failing to consult with the tribes. She will continue to work through the remainder of the process to reach a resolution on this issue that provides tribes with the amounts they are entitled to under federal law.

“477” Tribal Funding –  Just last Friday, Senator Murkowski said that Alaska Native, Native Americans and Native Hawaiians deserved “more action than rhetoric” when it comes to allowing them to implement smart, tailored economic policies for each tribe and region’s needs.  Murkowski added language in the FY 2014 Senate Interior Appropriations bill to reflect tribal concerns with new auditing standards proposed by the Administration.

Rural Water Infrastructure:  The bill includes $10 million for the EPA's Alaska Native Villages program to provide grants to implement critical wastewater and drinking water projects for Alaska Natives.

Lands and Forests

Legacy Wells – After decades of neglect by the federal government, Senator Murkowski has prioritized the clean-up of Alaska’s legacy wells on the Interior Department’s agenda.  Though Interior has blamed “budget problems” for its sluggish pace in addressing this environmental threat, Senator Murkowski worked to increase the Interior budget for efforts to clean up abandoned wells on BLM lands from $1 million to $6.5 million.

Land ConveyanceThe federal government’s conveyance program of land owed to Alaska and Alaska Natives is mandated under the 42-year-old Alaska Native Settlement Claims Act (ANCSA).  However, the Bureau of Land Management has once again proposed a deep cut in funding for Alaska land conveyance work.  Murkowski was able to restore the funding to $24M to provide additional Alaskans and Native Corporations final title to lands selected under the Alaska Statehood Act.

Alaska Red Cedar – Murkowski included language in the report requiring that timber sales in Alaska be economic and for the U.S. Forest Service to use an appraisal system best suited to the unique needs of Alaska.

Tongass Mining Access – With mines like Bokan hindered because operators have difficulty getting access to the resources, Senator Murkowski added language to the report re-stating the Forest Service’s obligation to provide reasonable access for mining. (This is already mandatory, as required by the 1872 Mining Law.)

Fish/Marine Priorities

Blocking Coastal Marine Special Planning (CMSP) in Alaska – Alaskans are against CMSP in our waters, and Senator Murkowski was told by Acting NOAA Secretary Blank earlier this year that “states that do not want to participate [in the program] will not have to.” To ensure this, Murkowski included language in the bill to prohibit Interior Department funds from being used for CMSP in and around Alaska.

Listening to States on Fish and Wildlife Data – Rather than proceeding with a top-down approach on federal land management policies, Senator Murkowski included language in the report urging the Department of the Interior and Forest Service to take into consideration and incorporate state fish and wildlife data before rendering a land use, land planning and related natural resource decision.

AK Subsistence and King Salmon Stock Assessments – Having held two subsistence town halls this year in Alaska, Senator Murkowski is deeply concerned by cuts the President proposed to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s budget for the Alaska Subsistence program, so she worked to maintain the current level of spending on the program – restoring it from under $10M to $12.9M.  She also included report language that will prioritize federal programs to promote improved stock assessments.


Public Safety

Wildfire Prevention and ResponseBeing mindful of the fires throughout Alaska and the lower 48, the Committee provided an additional $50 million for programs at the Department of the Interior and $105 million at the Forest Service, which were cut in the President’s budget, in an effort to reduce fire risks particularly around local communities.  These funds are also designed to protect lives and lower the cost and size of future fires.

Volcano Monitoring – With recent activity emerging from the “Ring of Fire” in the form of Pavlov and Cleveland volcanoes, Alaskans are increasingly aware of the ability of the Alaska Volcano Observatory to detect these threats to life, health and the state’s economy.  Senator Murkowski included language in today’s report emphasizing the need for the Department of Interior to ensure that the number of operating monitoring devices used by the AVO are in sufficient working order to ensure the safety of residents and international air traffic.

Alaska MappingAccurate, up-to-date topographic maps are necessary for aviation safety, energy development, and resource assessments.  Much of the state’s topographic maps are more than a half-century old.  The bill includes an increase of $1 million for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Alaska Mapping Initiative, which is collaborating with the Alaska Statewide Digital Mapping Initiative, to acquire data needed to provide accurate, current and accessible statewide topographic maps.


Alaska’s National Parks

Wrangell St. Elias National Park Improvements – With the Department of Interior having jurisdiction over the National Parks, $1.85 million is included in the bill for safety repairs and construction at Wrangell/St. Elias National Park.  The project will make safety repairs to historic mining structures on the site.