Murkowski’s Chairmanship Brings Benefits to Alaska

Interior Bill Invests in Communities, Infrastructure, Health and Wellness

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) today released her Fiscal Year 2019 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, which directs resources to programs critical to Alaska. As chairman of the Subcommittee, Murkowski crafted a bill which allocates significant resources to programs to construct or improve wastewater and drinking water systems in Native villages and throughout rural Alaska and prioritizes improving the health, safety, and welfare of all Alaskans. 

“This Interior appropriations bill is significant for Alaska. This is about our lands, our water and our people. I’m proud of the work we have done to direct federal resources where they are needed most, by investing in programs aimed to protect people and our lands. This bill equips Alaskans with basic, vital services that will vastly improve their standard of living and provide much-needed stability they need and deserve. Far too many communities across our state lack safe, clean water and adequate sewer infrastructure: a basic necessity essential to public health that many Americans may take for granted. Through this bill, we provide substantial resources to improve wastewater and drinking water systems as well as construct new infrastructure,” said Senator Murkowski. “We also know that Alaskans have some of the highest healthcare costs in the country and the most limited access to care. From support for improving and maintaining rural health facilities, to providing tools to combat domestic violence, substance abuse, and suicide --- I’m proud that this bill prioritizes the health and well-being of Alaskan communities. These investments today will have a lasting impact on our state.”

Safeguarding Communities

The Interior bill provides full funding for the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program, which helps local governments provide vital services, such as firefighting and police protection, search-and-rescue operations, and the construction of public schools and roads.

The bill provides funding for important programs that help emergency responders respond to, and inform the public of, natural hazards and disasters. Funding for the earthquakes hazard program will allow Alaska to develop and enhance earthquake monitoring capabilities. The bill also includes $31 million for the USGS volcano hazards program. The bill maintains funding at $7.7 million for Alaska mapping initiatives that will help gather data to improve maps, thereby enhancing the safety of activities such as aviation.

The bill fully funds the 10-year average cost of our nation’s wildfire suppression needs, and provides additional resources to the Forest Service and Department of the Interior in the event of a catastrophic wildfire season. Murkowski also increased investments in the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service for preventative measures that can be made in advance of wildfire season, such as hazardous fuels reduction and fuel breaks.

Developing Water and Wastewater Infrastructure

The bill provides funding to improve wastewater and drinking water systems through the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) State Water Revolving Funds program and $30 million for a new grant program, to help bring basic water and sewer to communities in need. The legislation also includes $25 million for EPA’s Alaska Native Villages program to improve wastewater and drinking water systems. In an effort to provide infrastructure upgrades for tribal communities throughout Alaska, funding is maintained for the Indian Health Service’s (IHS) Sanitation Facilities Construction program, providing American Indian and Alaska Native homes and communities with essential water supply, sewage disposal, and solid waste disposal facilities. This program was proposed to be cut by $90 million.

Investing in Health and Wellness

The Indian Health Service (IHS) and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) play a vital role in Alaska. Murkowski’s 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 also contains significant resources that will help combat domestic violence, substance abuse, and suicide through IHS and BIA programs. Increased funding is included for alcohol and substance abuse prevention programs aimed to increase behavioral health services and prevention programming for tribal youth and to incorporate more holistic healthcare models. Funding increases included in FY 2018 for substance abuse disorders, mental health disorders, suicide, violence, and behavior-related chronic diseases among American Indians and Alaska Natives is maintained.

The bill establishes a new grant program through IHS which provides $10 million to help tribes fight back against opioid abuse, $7.5 million is continued through BIA to fight opioid addiction. 

Improving Healthcare Facilities 

The bill provides the fully projected need for staffing of new facilities, including $57.3 million for a new facility operated by the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation in Bethel.

The bill provides $15 million for Village Built Clinics, a $4 million increase above FY 2018.  This is a program unique to Alaska that supports approximately 150 healthcare clinics in rural areas, many of which require intensive maintenance and often serve as the only health facility and source of medical care in the respective region. Through the Small Ambulatory Clinics program, the bill provides $15 million to make infrastructure improvements to provide healthcare delivery to Alaska Natives. Funds appropriated for this program in FY 2018 are being used to construct facilities in Shishmaref, New Kongiganak Village, Ninilchik, Tok, and Tatitlek.

The bill also includes increases to provide sanitation facilities construction, maintenance and improvement, and health care facility construction.

Prioritizing Alaska Lands

The bill prioritizes infrastructure improvements on our nation’s public lands. Both the construction and deferred maintenance budgets continued to receive increases, building upon their historic increases from the year prior.  These are priorities for National Parks in Alaska, as maintaining park infrastructure is key to both local visitors and the tourism sector. It also increases funding for Forest Service recreation activities, including cabins, trails, and recreation; and provides more resources for special use permitting programs that allow certain businesses to operate in Alaska’s national forests.

Dozens of exploration wells and core tests that were drilled by the federal government decades ago remain abandoned in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. This bill provides $9.5 million for legacy well cleanup, and further directs the Bureau of Land Management to craft a long-term funding plan to complete the clean-up of the wells within ten years.

The bill also includes funds to fulfill requirements to transfer lands to the State and Native Alaskans under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), by providing $22 million for Alaska Land Conveyance. Funding is included for energy and minerals programs that will help USGS conduct assessments in the NPR-A and also invests $7 million in a new critical minerals initiative that will improve topographic, geological, and geophysical mapping.

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). Murkowski, as Chairman, is able to write the Senate’s annual appropriations bill for the Subcommittee.