Murkowski’s Chairmanship Yields Results for Alaska
Interior Appropriations Bill Directs Resources for Unique Alaskan Needs
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) announced a series of provisions within her Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill to provide resources and support programs with significant impacts in communities throughout Alaska. As Chairman of this subcommittee, Murkowski was able to give Alaskans a strong voice as she crafted the bill. The bill was approved by the full Appropriations Committee and now heads to the Senate floor for final consideration.
“With our state in the midst of a fiscal crisis, my Interior bill will provide much-needed stability, protections, and opportunities for communities all across our state. It directs federal resources where they are needed, while blocking excessive regulations that are causing harm and burying us in red tape,” Senator Murkowski said. “I am proud of the work we have done in this bill to empower Alaskans to build our economy and create safe and healthy communities.”
The bill contains the following Alaska-specific items:
- Alaska Land Use Council: Re-establishes the Alaska Land Use Council (ALUC), which was established by Title 12 of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) but allowed to sunset in 1990. The current relationship between the State of Alaska, residents of Alaska, and federal land management agencies makes clear that a constructive venue is needed to facilitate enhanced coordination on federal land and resource management issues. The purpose of the new ALUC is to improve efficiency and cooperation among federal, state, and Alaska Native Corporation and Tribal land managers in addressing those issues.
- Waters of the US: Imposes a one-year delay on the implementation of the controversial Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, which if finalized, would significantly expand the EPA’s ability to regulate Alaska’s land and water. Almost everything in Alaska is near water, wetlands, or permafrost. In fact, Alaska has more wetlands than the rest of the United States. Under WOTUS, almost every project in Alaska could suddenly become subject to the burdensome EPA permitting process. This would increase project costs and cause delays or even cancellations.
- Mining Regulations: Instructs BLM to work with the State of Alaska and miners in the Fortymile region to develop regulations that take into account the unique placer mining challenges in Alaska.
- Stream Buffer Rule: Prohibits the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) from implementing a regulation known as the Stream Buffer Zone Rule. The rule has been heavily criticized by states and the mining industry as duplicative and confusing. As proposed, it has the potential to shut down coal mining in Alaska and across the nation, and OSM failed to fully analyze Alaska impacts when developing the rule. At a field hearing that Senator Murkowski held in Fairbanks in March 2016, Ms. Lorali Simon of the Usibelli Coal Mine testified that, “If this proposed rule becomes final, it will likely kill all coal development in Alaska.”
- Lead Bullets and Fishing Tackle: Draws on Senator Murkowski’s work from last year, and continues to prohibit the EPA from regulating lead content of ammunition and fishing tackle.
- Hunting and Fishing Regulations: Blocks the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposed rule that would preempt the State of Alaska’s long-standing authority to manage fish and wildlife on all Alaska lands, including national wildlife refuges, and restrict the state’s ability to ensure harvestable surplus for Alaska’s hunters, fishermen, and subsistence community. The rule is contrary to the special protections granted to the state in ANILCA. Senator Murkowski’s prohibition on federal funding for this rule preserves Alaska’s primary jurisdiction over wildlife management. U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) has previously passed an amendment through the Environment and Public Works Committee to prohibit the implementation of this rule, and Congressman Don Young (R-AK) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.
- Payment in Lieu of Taxes: Fully funds the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program at $480 million, well above last year’s funding levels. 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.
- State Water Revolving Funds: Provides substantial funding to help facilitate clean, safe drinking water in local communities. Funds can be used to address drinking water and wastewater infrastructure challenges, including addressing problems posed by lead.
- EPA Targeted Airshed Grants: Ensures that cities like Fairbanks are eligible for grants to support wood stove change-outs in order to help reduce air pollution.
- Arctic Priorities: Supports the Arctic Council and directs federal agencies to focus on economic opportunities in the region, as well as science and subsistence issues.
- Legacy Wells: Provides increased funding for the BLM to clean up exploration wells drilled at the direction of the federal government in NPR-A between 1944 and 1982. While Senator Murkowski secured significant funding to clean up these abandoned wells through the Helium Stewardship Act of 2013, nearly 30 will still reportedly remain in need of remediation once that funding is exhausted. Murkowski’s bill nearly doubles the requested amount of funding for the clean-up of legacy wells, and also compels BLM to craft a long-term strategy to finally complete this effort.
- 3D Alaska Mapping: Includes additional funding for Alaska mapping initiatives that will help gather data to improve maps, enhancing safety for activities such as aviation. Just last August, Alaska surpassed the halfway mark in updating the state’s digital mapping and data collection. Currently much of the terrain data in Alaska is more than 50 years old and hand-sketched from photos shot from World War II reconnaissance craft.
- USGS Earthquake and Volcano Hazards: Provides funding for earthquake and volcano monitoring, with specific funds allocated to the Alaska Volcano Observatory.
- Mineral Resources Program: Funding is restored for Alaska mapping and increased for geologic mapping.
- Critical Minerals and Geophysical Studies: Directs USGS to conduct studies that would significantly expand the public’s knowledge of the minerals resource potential in Alaska, provide state-of-the-art data for current and future use, and demonstrate the utility of integrated science to address country’s mineral resource issues.
- Forest Service Recreation: Provides funding for the Forest Service’s recreation programs to issue additional special use permits, helping expand recreation-based businesses in the Chugach and Tongass National Forests in Alaska. It also funds Forest Service recreation assets, cabins, and campgrounds.
- Forest Inventory Analysis: Partners with the state to inventory forests across the nation and builds efforts to include Interior Alaska in these inventories.
- Kagalaska and Chirikof: Prohibits the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) from using funds to conduct a costly caribou hunt on Kagalaska Island in the Aleutian Chain. The FWS estimated that it would cost $71,000 in taxpayer money to send four employees to the island to hunt and process the caribou. The legislation also prohibits costly and impractical efforts to remove cattle from the remote Chirikof Island.
The Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee controls funding levels for federal agencies and departments such as 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.