Murkowski Speaks on Historic Infrastructure Bill
“This is one of the most consequential bills that I have been involved in my Senate career”
Today U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) spoke on the Senate floor to the importance of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, legislation currently before the full Senate which invests in our nation’s core infrastructure—roads, bridges, rail, ports, airports, energy, water systems, broadband, and transit, including ferries. Murkowski spoke about the efforts she and her colleagues put into the bill, including provisions of great importance to Alaska, and the historic impacts that this legacy infrastructure package will provide.
Click here for video of Senator Murkowski’s remarks.
Transcript of Remarks
“I’m pleased to be able to follow my friend and colleague, the senator from Arizona, and while she is still on the floor, I want to thank her personally or her Herculean efforts that she has made throughout this process. It has not been easy, it has sometimes been challenging. Sometimes it takes someone who exudes optimism and enthusiasm, and a deep hearted, deep-seated belief that what we are doing is good and its right for all the right reasons.
“We have acknowledged here on the floor, each and every one of us, this infrastructure bill is not the perfect bill. But I am waiting for the day when we here in the United States Senate can come to a place where all 100 of us have the perfect bill.
“What we have for the Senate to consider is a product that is really built around core fundamental, core principles that a group of Senators equally divided came together months ago to work through knowing that the work was going to be hard. This is probably one of the most consequential bills that I have been involved with in my Senate career, in the close to 19 years that I have been here. What we are presenting to the Senate is truly historic in its proportions, it is historic in its impact going forward. This is truly legacy infrastructure that we’re speaking about.
“Yesterday was a little frustrating. We’ve had some frustrating days, where colleagues were sitting and waiting, hoping for things to move more rapidly than they were, and that’s challenging. We have a process here in the Senate that is hard for those on the outside to understand, and often times hard for us on the inside to understand. But it is a process that after a period of time, yields the results. As I was visiting with fellow senators, I overheard someone say, ‘I’m not really sure how we got here. How did we get to this point?’ I’ll tell you Mr. President, it wasn’t magic that produced a legislative package that is historic in its funding in, roads, rails, bridges, ports, and waterways. It was certainly not an accident that negotiated this 2,700 page document that works to meet the broadband needs of Americans, particularly in unserved or underserved parts of the country like my state in Alaska. It also wasn’t inevitable that this infrastructure deal would come together, and yet that’s all following what we have learned in this past year and a half dealing with the COVID pandemic and the reality— that we have true disparities when it comes to basic infrastructure like clean water and sanitation facilities, energy. It was not inevitable that this infrastructure deal would come together.
“In the age of cynicism and punditry, we have grown accustomed here to believing that it’s hard to get good things done in Washington. DC. That’s not good for any of us. Those of us here in the Senate, we signed up to do a job. We were sent here to do a job. We were sent here to work. Mr. President, that’s it. That’s how we came to be where we are. Through work—through hard work, through compromise. It wasn’t magic, it wasn’t accidental, it wasn’t inevitable -- we went to work. For a time, we banished the demon of faction that cast his scepter all too often. Alexander Hamilton warned us of this polarizing temptation. And as the champion of infrastructure, or they called it ‘internal improvements’ in the days of the founding fathers, I hope that he’s looking favorably on us today.
“But again, this has not been an easy road, this infrastructure project. Every morning those of us that were involved in these negotiations, we’d wake up, not surprised to read in the papers or see on TV, that something had happened outside our control that was designed to kill this package. And every day, instead of taking in those headlines, we saw our constituents, we heard from them, we heard from the people across this country, urging us to continue. People like Carl J. Uchytil, Mario Cordero, Chris Connor – they penned an op-ed in one of our Alaska newspapers and they urged us to advance the bipartisan infrastructure framework because for them the emphasis, on what it would do to build out our ports and waterways were significant. The emails and phone calls we received reminded us of the infrastructure, and how important it is for industries, for the jobs all over Alaska, for Alaskans, for folks all over the country, for health, for the future, and they reminded us that we have an opportunity to do something that actually matters in their lives and in their communities. The other thing that I heard, Mr. President -- they wanted us to do this together. Figure it out you guys, work together.
“When you look at the survey data out either, it’s pretty resounding. Several different polls show 87 percent of Americans support fixing infrastructure the list of organizations that support it, everyone from the American wire rope fabricators, to the Institute of Manufactures of Explosives, National Governors Association, Steel Manufacturers, and TechNec. This bipartisan infrastructure package proves that good things can happen in Washington DC, but that it takes work. It takes a majority of us in the chamber deciding that it’s better to get some of what our constituents want rather than none of it. It’s better to make progress and actually deliver results to your constituents, rather than just delivering a message. We do a lot of messaging around here. And as my friend, the Senator from West Virginia reminds us: a message doesn’t fix a pothole.
“I have been disappointed that we haven’t been able to get some of the amendments we heard about today. We heard Senator Shelby from Alabama talk about defense infrastructure, the Senator from Texas, Senator Cornyn, on the flexibility of states, and we’ve heard the Senator from Pennsylvania, Senator Toomey and Wyden and Lummis on the cryptocurrency issue. Again, is this perfect? No. But is it a process that has delivered us to a place where we are delivering results to the people who have sent us here.
“Mr. President, I was on the floor late last week outlining the many benefits that Alaskans will see from this measure, but I want to take a few more minutes to highlight just a few more in detail. Because as I’ve mentioned and everyone knows, part of the role that I‘ve offered in our bipartisan working group was to make sure that the needs of rural Americas were meant. This bill addresses some of the greatest infrastructure needs that we see in rural America and in urban and everywhere in between to connect them in ways we never have before.
“Southeast Alaska— this is the region of the state I grew up in, it’s an islanded archipelago. It is not possible to travel by road by one city in the Southeastern part of the state to another for the most part. Our capital is not accessible by road. Our reality is that we either travel by airplane or we are traveling on the water. So a strong ferry system, the Alaska Marine Highway System, is absolutely essential to local economic development to quality of life to community well being. There are 35 different ports along the Alaska Marine Highway System. This spans an area of 35,000 miles. I’m only looking at my colleague from Delaware because we’ve been working on the ferry initiative and he’s proud of the ferry system that he has there, but I have a lot of water that I’ve got to cover and it makes it challenging. It makes it challenging but it’s no different than Delaware in terms of the significance that these can offer to people as they are moving their families around, as they are moving their basketball teams around, as they are going to Costco in Juneau and delivering them to Hoonah, to those military who are PCSing—going outside the state. They’ve got to move their families and all their good and the dogs and the trucks and they’ve got to get out of town, and they get out by way of the ferry.
“It's easy to compare Alaska’s ferry to an urban bus or a subway system or another form of mass transit that receives operations support. But until now, because Alaska’s communities are rural and not urban, our ferry system hasn’t been eligible for any meaningful federal support for its operations. There’s been some federal funding available through allocation formula or grant program to the ferry system for both construction and maintenance, but now ferry operators will be able to use funding for construction, maintenance, and repairs and operations costs.
“In so many parts of Alaska the Marine Highway System is the only highway. It is the only highway, so it is truly an essential mode of transportation. When you come from a state where only 80 percent of its communities are not connected by road, again, you figure it out. It’s air. It’s on the ocean. It’s in the rivers. But more often than not, our transportation is not roads. So to make sure that we are addressing this essential sector of transportation.
“We included languages that establishes an essential program for essential ferry service to support our rural communities. Through this program, the Department of transportation will be able to provide funds to the state to provide for essential ferry service.
“We’re also looking forward, as we think about how our ferries move. How our school buses move. How our vehicles move. And we know that this administration has moved out very aggressively when it comes to EVs. There’s language in this bill that helps to facilitate that, but again, when you are thinking about what is on the roads, electrification of our vehicles, or our school busses or our city buses, let’s not forget what I just referred to and that’s these effectively buses that are on the water. So what are we doing to electrify or to look to alternative fuels for our ferries? This is not a new concept. In the Scandinavian countries, where again, hydropower is again in great abundance as it is in Southeast Alaska an electric ferry system makes sense.
“So we’re kind of pushing out on this to build out this notion, this concept that we can reduce emissions with our ferries by using alternative fuels or onboard energy storage systems, other charging energy related infrastructure again to reduce our emissions or to produce zero onboard emissions that are operations. So folks in Skagway or Haines are looking at this with great interest because they view that as a real opportunity. Diesel doesn’t come cheap up there and that’s what moves these communities around. But these ferries in these communities, Skagway, is powered by hydro so let’s pull this all together.
“I’ve mentioned the potential for EVs and low emitting ferries, but I’m reminded that the United States has and will continue to be a leader in energy production and we certainly know that in my state. And we’re going to need to continue being an energy superpower as we’re continuing to advance as a society that we’re going to be using more energy, more electricity—and yeah, we’re going to still need to produce much of it in the good old fashioned way for a long time to come, but electricity is becoming increasingly important. It’s vital to so many facets of modern life. And this bipartisan infrastructure package takes that electrified future into account.
“Looking at the different ways that it enhances the broader energy system by investing in next generation clean energy production, there are three examples that are pertinent to Alaska. There’s funding for advanced nuclear reactors including microreactors. You might not think about Alaska and nuclear or micro, but it holds great promise for deployment in certain rural and remote areas. We also provide funding for hydropower and marine energy research. We’ve got a great hydrokinetic research center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. We provide for renewable energy projects, including geothermal. We’ve pioneered in this. In fact, we’ve got the Secretary of Energy who is going to be visiting the state shortly and will have an opportunity to look specifically at the low temperature geothermal as well as promising opportunities that we have in the Aleutians.
“More energy production from more types of energy means greater resilience, greater affordability, greater access with reduced emissions.
“So, let’s consider the ways the bill directly impacts the electric grid in the power sector. Three areas again pertinent to Alaska and to rural areas. We have included a measure that I had introduced, the PROTECT Act, which authorizes funding to improve our cyber defenses in smaller communities. I think we recognize that we have a big focus on the bigger communities, but your utilities in your smaller communities still have to provide for that cyber protection.
“The bill also sets aside grants for small utilities, like we have in Alaska, to prevent outages, to enhance resilience, hardening of the grid—this is going to help in preventing wildfires that can be caused by power lines or other disruptive events. We’re talking about weatherization, fire prevention systems, installing equipment underground, maintaining utility poles and power lines. We also provide support for rural and remote areas in many communities in the state for the modernization of transmission and distribution. So this is going to help with cost effectiveness. It’s going to help with energy efficiency, microgrids, citing, upgrading, as we shift to cleaner sources of energy.
“So, again, I think it’s important to recognize that we are working to not only address the transmission but distribution, generation, and what we’re really looking to do is look toward the future. A future in which we’ll need more energy production, more electricity, more batteries, a more secure grid, and as we are doing this, as we are building this out I want to make sure that we do ensure that all Americans are included in this energy and infrastructure transition.
“And I speak specifically now to our Alaska Indian, American Indian, our Native peoples around the country. This bill, this Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, is really a historic achievement for all of us concerned with American Indian, Alaska Native Tribes and villages. I’m the Vice Chair of the Indian Affairs Committee, and I have worked hard to make sure that Indian Country’s voices have been heard.
“Let’s look at the Indian Health Service. It has a vital water and sanitation program. We’re talking about water and wastewater, things that most of us take for granted. We provide 3.5 billion in funding for American Indian, Alaska Native Tribes and villages to complete all of the identified sanitation projects. These are projects that have been on the books for way, way too long.
“I’m reminded by friend Val Davidson at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, she testified before the Indian Affairs Committee about both the funding needed in Native communities and sanitation needs, really significant impacts on health, and she shared a story, her own personal but also a statistic that one in three infants in communities from her region without adequate sanitation are hospitalized in their first year simply because they lack basic water, sanitation services. And it’s not just a visit to a hospital that is scary, but so many then develop long-term health problems, which are absolutely unacceptable.
“Any infrastructure bill has to live up to our federal government’s trust obligations to our Tribes. This is vital to allowing Tribes access to water for their health, and their livelihood. So within the bill we provide 2.5 billion to provide for Indian Water Settlements.
“Outside of the legal world, most people know “Indian water settlements” by the term: water rights. The outstanding settlements include the Aamodt, Crow, Navajo-Gallup, White Mountain Apache, Blackfeet Nation, Navajo Utah, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, and the Arizona Water Settlement Act. This funding will complete the balance of each and every one of those settlements.
“We also provide $250 million for the Bureau of Indian Affairs to help build and repair irrigation, power, and sanitation systems. You’ve got to be able to move clean water from one place to another to keep it clean, and be able to use it productively. We provide grants for Native Village firefighting training, resilient transportation infrastructure, a Native Youth Public Land Corps to restore and protect ecosystems, adaptation projects for climate change impacts, and funding for a new program to provide Indian Tribes grants to clean up orphan wells.
“There’s more included in this. There’s $110 million set aside for tribal bridge investments. There’s a tribal transportation program; eligibility for grants under advanced energy and battery manufacturing and recycling programs. We’re really looking to ensure that we are prioritizing infrastructure needs in Tribal areas.
“I haven’t mentioned broadband but it’s absolutely significant. We know that broadband deployment on Tribal lands has lagged far behind the rest of the Nation. And so to address this, the bill includes an additional $2 billion for Tribal Broadband Connectivity Grants. We know, we’ve heard it on this floor from all of us – Republicans and Democrats, urban and rural – we know that Broadband is vital to education, health care, economic development, and self-governance. It applies absolutely across the board as we think about the needs in Indian Country.
“I think we know that the federal financing provisions, the dollars going forward, are significant, but we also know that it’s not just about the funding, it’s about making programs work better. So we do things like requiring expedited environmental review for tribal transportation safety projects. We streamline categorical exclusions by empowering Indian Tribes in relation to the federal government. Within the Middle Mile grants there’s consultation with Tribes on a process to designate tribally unserved and underserved areas. So there’s so much that we have really focused on in ensuring that Alaska Natives and American Indians—Native people around the country—are included in many of the provisions as they relate to grid infrastructure including resilience and reliability.
“So, Madam President, I’ve spoken for a while now on three specific areas where I’ve chosen to highlight. Certainly within marine transportation the benefits that a place like Alaska will see, the significance of energy production and what this infrastructure bill will provide there, and benefits to our Native peoples around the country. And Madam President I want to conclude my comments by ending with where I began, which is to acknowledge the efforts of so many who have really gotten us here today. Not through a miracle, not through an accident, not through inevitability, but just through hard work.
“I am very pleased to have been a part of this group I’m really honored to work with such hard working people and their teams, led by Senator Sinema who just spoke and Senator Portman. Their leadership has been in my view really extraordinary. The work that they have put behind managing us all to this point deserves the recognition. And I also want to acknowledge the good work of the Chairman and the Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Public Works Committee, Senator Carper and Senator Capito, who really laid the base for so much of this bill. So to the G-10 and the broader G-22, all those who have contributed so much, I convey my thanks.
“I also want to acknowledge colleagues on the other side of the Capitol here – those who are known as the Problem Solvers over there – they really have jumped in and rolled up their sleeves and helped us in solving problems when it comes to this infrastructure package and I’m looking forward to being able to move this legislation from this body tomorrow to send it over to the House so that they can then pick up those efforts. But I’m pleased that we have come to this place after a long and tough process – one where we were really able to focus on common goals that we identified at the outset and really held true to—that we were going to be core infrastructure. We agreed that we were not going to impose new taxes. We agreed that we needed to ensure that the spending payfors were true and legitimate. We agreed that long-term spending on infrastructure needed to improve our nation’s efficiency, productivity, GDP, and revenue and not increase inflation. And Madame President we have achieved that. We set out these parameters and we achieved it. But we did it with a lot of give and a lot of take. And so while the end product is not something that any one of us individually would have written, I’m very proud to be able to support what we have worked to bring to this body with the help and hard work and collaboration of so many members.
“I am disappointed that immediately after we advance this bill tomorrow – the infrastructure package – that we will turn to a wholly partisan exercise. One that in my view – taxes and spends without limit, a wish list that really knows no limit.
“But for now let’s move to this infrastructure bill. Let’s get it to the House. Let’s do what people in Alaska, people in Illinois, what people around the country have asked us to do. And that is to address our nation’s competitiveness, our nation’s efficiency, and our nation’s advantages by securing and ensuring that we are able to move, connect and provide for our country’s needs.
“And with that Madam President, I yield the floor.”