Murkowski’s Interior Bill Recognizes Unique Needs for Southeast Alaska
Provisions Include Support for Transboundary Water Quality, Struggling Timber Industry
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) announced a series of provisions within her Fiscal Year 2017 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill to provide resources and support programs with significant impacts in communities throughout Southeast 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 Alaskan communities. It provides tools to protect the pristine waters of Southeast Alaska – building on the delegation’s efforts to promote safe mining practices near transboundary rivers to ensure the full protection of our world-class fisheries. At the same time, my bill also includes provisions to support the struggling timber industry in the Southeast and increases investment in recreation activities,” Senator Murkowski said. “I am proud of the work we have done in this bill to empower Alaskans to build our economy and create healthy communities. It directs federal resources where they are needed, while blocking excessive regulations that are causing harm and burying us in red tape.”
The bill contains the following Southeast Alaska-specific items:
- 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 funding to help local communities improve water infrastructure in both the wastewater and drinking water areas. Funding from this program can be used to address problems like lead content in water.
- Transboundary Water Quality: Allocates funds for transboundary river streamgages and directs the BIA and USGS to enter into a formal partnership with local tribes to develop a water quality strategy for transboundary rivers. Ensuring baseline water quality monitoring is a key priority for the delegation, which was identified in a letter that was recently sent to Secretary of State John Kerry calling for international cooperation on Canadian mines.
- Forest Products: Funds the Forest Service’s timber program for the nation, which includes the timber industry that provides jobs and opportunities for residents of Southeast Alaska.
- Alaska Red Cedar and Economic Timber Sales: Continues current law that requires that timber sales in Alaska be economic, and requires that Alaska and West Coast sawmills be given the first right to process the timber, in order to keep these jobs in the U.S.
- Tongass Land Use Plan Amendment Delay: Requires the Forest Service to gather sufficient data about the timing and availability of young growth timber before finalizing any amendments to the Tongass land plan.
- Forest Service Recreation: Provides funding for the Forest Service’s recreation programs to issue additional special use permits, helping to expand recreation-based businesses in the Chugach and Tongass National Forests in Alaska. Also funds Forest Service recreation assets like cabins and campgrounds.
- Bokan Mountain: Provides funding for the Forest Service to clean up contamination in areas like Bokan Mountain. Activity in that area cannot move forward until clean-up is complete.
- Gustavus Intertie: Includes funding for the National Park Service Construction, for renewable energy projects like the Gustavus Intertie project. This would allow for National Park Service facilities to connect to the local electric utility, which runs on hydropower.
- 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.
- 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.
- Mineral Resources Program and Geophysical Studies: Funding is restored for Alaska mapping and increased for geological mapping. Also, 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 the nation’s mineral resource issues.
- 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 the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). Senator Murkowski’s prohibition on federal funding for this rule preserves Alaska’s primary jurisdiction over wildlife management.
- Lead Bullets and Fishing Tackle: The Interior bill also draws on Senator Murkowski’s work from last year, and continues to prohibit the EPA from regulating lead content of ammunition and fishing tackle.
- Small and Needy Tribes: Provides direct support to ensure all tribes have a base level of support to run tribal governments.
- Alaska Subsistence (FS and FWS): Provides funds for the Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct activities relating to the Federal Subsistence Board, and works with Alaska Natives to gather information, expand employment and capacity building, and assist subsistence users with law enforcement compliance activities, such as obtaining essential permits and meeting harvest reporting requirements.
- Tribal Management: Provides additional funding for Alaska subsistence programs, extending critical pilot projects and ensuring additional opportunities for Alaska Native involvement in federal subsistence processes.
- Sealaska Cultural Sites: Provides funding for Alaska Native programs to certify claims for historical places and cultural sites.
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.