Murkowski Unveils Interior-Environment Bill

Prioritizing Health, Safety, and Well-being of Alaskans

Today U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) released her Fiscal Year  2021 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act bill. The Committee is responsible for funding agencies that are tasked with ensuring clean water and clean air, managing public lands, meeting federal trust responsibilities for Native peoples, and funding cultural agencies and museums. As chairman of the Interior Subcommittee, Murkowski crafted a bill with funding to strengthen local economies and create safer and healthier communities.

“For Alaskans, this Interior bill means cleaner air and water, as well as safer and healthier communities. Through my work on this bill we are prioritizing the need to protect our people, our water, and our lands. As we continue to navigate the detrimental impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, this bill will help to create an economic boost and opportunities for communities across Alaska,” Senator Murkowski said. “I look forward to working with my colleagues to finalize our work and have a bill signed into law that will bring much needed fiscal certainty at a time when Alaskans and all Americans need it most.”

Click here for the bill text.

Click here for the explanatory statement.

Investing in Communities

The Interior bill fully funds the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program at $515 million. 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.

As the Indian Health Service (IHS) and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) serve a vital role in Alaska, 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 provides dedicated funding for 105 (l) tribal lease payments and maintains support for Village Built Clinics. These clinics are the backbone of Alaska’s rural health program and are often the only source of medical care available to Alaskans in rural areas, as well as provide support for infrastructure improvements through Small Ambulatory Clinics.

The bill prioritizes infrastructure improvements on our nation’s public lands, which is key to both local visitors and the tourism sector. The bill provides the NPS with an additional $71 million to address critical operations in our nation’s parks. The bill also includes funding for Forest Service (FS) recreation access – including cabins, trails, and campgrounds – and provides resources to help expand recreation-based businesses to operate in the Chugach and Tongass National Forests in Alaska. In addition, the bill directs the FS to continue workforce initiatives in the Tongass National Forest and create economic opportunities for Alaska’s Southeast region.

Creating Safer Communities

Native American women face high rates of violence and the lack of data on the number of women and girls who go missing or murdered further complicates the Nation’s ability to address this crisis. An additional $6 million is included for Missing, Tracked, and Murdered Indigenous Women initiatives, with funding specifically for cold cases, equipment, and to support the goals of the Operation Lady Justice Task Force. The bill also provides for domestic violence prevention initiatives, specific VAWA tribal court needs, and to help communities develop tribal court systems.

The bill also provides funding for important programs that help emergency responders respond to natural hazards and inform the public. Funding for the earthquake hazards program will help states like Alaska develop and enhance earthquake monitoring capabilities. Support for wildfire prevention and suppression efforts work to help reduce the risk of wildfires. In addition, the bill provides for data collection and landslide hazard assessments in Alaska’s Prince William Sound area. 

Prioritizing Healthier Communities

The bill provides robust funding to improve wastewater and drinking water systems through EPA programs which help bring basic water and sewer infrastructure to communities including increased funds for the improvement of existing water systems and sanitation facilities, along with training, in Native Villages. The bill addresses PFAS contamination by providing funding which support state-led cleanup and remediation efforts of PFAS contaminated water sources, water systems, and lands as well as increased funding for USGS for testing and mapping of PFAS contamination.

The bill also recognizes the importance of the world-class Bristol Bay ecosystem and concurs with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ [Corps] assessment of August 24, 2020, that the Pebble mine project in southwest Alaska, as proposed, cannot be permitted under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. Federal agencies should deny the permit for the project if Pebble Limited Partnership is unable to provide a full and functional compensatory mitigation plan that meets all requirements within the Corps’ requested 90-day timeframe. Furthermore, the bill provides funding for preliminary appraisal and valuation work for potential land acquisitions and exchanges in high-priority conservation areas, such as the Bristol Bay ecosystem.

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).

Related Issues: Alaska Natives & Rural Alaska, Health, Budget, Spending, and the National Debt