Murkowski’s Interior Bill Passes Senate, Major Milestone

Protects Water, Lands, and People

In a historic move today the full Senate passed, by a vote of 92 to 6, a funding package that includes U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill. Murkowski, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee and chairman of the Interior, Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, managed the legislation on the Senate floor. This is the first time the Interior bill was considered on the Senate floor, including final passage, in eight years. Murkowski, as chairman of the subcommittee, crafted a bipartisan bill that reflected priorities of Alaskans.

The four-bill funding package combined the Interior-Environment; Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development (T-HUD); Agriculture; and Financial Services appropriations bills.

“I am incredibly proud that by working together, in a truly bipartisan manner, we have made progress moving through the appropriations process to fund critical programs important to Alaska and the nation,” said Senator Murkowski. “For Alaskans, this Interior bill means cleaner air and water, as well as safer and healthier communities. We are prioritizing the need to protect our water, our people, and our lands. We are also creating an economic boost and opportunities for communities across the state.” 

Click here for a full list of Alaska interest provisions and funding levels in the Interior, Environment bill.

Water and Wastewater Infrastructure

Water and Sewer

(Click image for video of Senator Murkowski explaining funding to improve wastewater and drinking water.)

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. 

Safer Communities

Safer Communities

(Click image for video of Senator Murkowski explaining funding to improve safety.) 

Payment in Lieu of Taxes

The Interior bill provides full funding for the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program at $500 million, 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.

Improving Mapping

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.

Natural Hazards and Disasters

Natural Hazards and Disasters

(Click image for video of Murkowski explaining funding to address natural disasters.)

Preventing and Responding to Wildfires

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 catastrophic wildfires. 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.

Monitoring Hazards

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 U.S. Geological Survey volcano hazards program.

Alaska Lands

Alaska Lands

(Click image for video of Murkowski highlighting funds to protect & improve our public lands.)

Construction and Deferred Maintenance

The bill prioritizes infrastructure improvements on our nation’s public lands. Both the construction and deferred maintenance budgets continue to receive increases, building upon their historic increases from the year prior. These are priorities for our national parks, 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.

Cleaning-Up Contaminated Lands

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.

Health and Wellness

Health and Wellness

(Click image for video of Murkowski explaining funding to improve the health and well-being of Alaskans.)

Fighting Abuse and Addiction

The bill establishes a new grant program through Indian Health Service (IHS) which provides $10 million to help tribes fight back against opioid abuse, $7.5 million is continued through Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to fight opioid addiction. The bill also contains significant resources that will help combat domestic violence, substance abuse, and suicide. 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 last year’s fiscal year funding bill for substance abuse disorders, mental health disorders, suicide, violence, and behavior-related chronic diseases among American Indians and Alaska Natives is maintained.

Caring for our Youth

The bill provides funding for the Commission on Native Children created to identify the complex challenges facing Native children in Alaska and across the country by conducting an intensive study on issues such as high rates of poverty, unemployment, child abuse, domestic violence, crime, substance abuse, and dire economic opportunities. Senator Murkowski, along with Senator Heitkamp of North Dakota, sponsored legislation creating the Commission.

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.

Through the Small Ambulatory Clinics program, the bill provides $15 million to make infrastructure improvements to provide healthcare delivery to Alaska Natives. The bill provides $15 million for Village Built Clinics, a program unique to Alaska which 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. The bill also includes increases to provide for the construction, maintenance, and improvement of sanitation facilities and healthcare facility construction.

Fulfilling Federal Promises

The IHS and 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 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.