Sen. Murkowski Calls Out Interior’s Inconsistency on King Cove Road

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) today pressed Rhea Suh, nominated to be the next assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks at the Interior Department, on the importance of approving a life-saving road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge to protect the health and safety of the people of King Cove, Alaska.

Murkowski asked how Interior agencies could continue to defend their opposition to the King Cove road with the argument that it could harm the region’s migrating wildfowl, while at the same time approving a rule granting wind energy companies a 30-year permit to kill or injure American bald and golden eagles? 

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“How do you reconcile the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s ongoing opposition to the King Cove road with its more recent decision to grant permits that allow for the taking of eagles at wind farms around the country?” Murkowski asked Suh at Thursday’s hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

After a number of people died in airplane-related accidents in King Cove, Murkowski crafted legislation offering to add 56,000 acres of state and tribal lands to the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in exchange for allowing the isolated community to build a single-lane, gravel road through a small section of the refuge to an all-weather airport in Cold Bay.

Murkowski’s legislation was signed into law in 2009, but it still requires Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to determine whether the land exchange and road corridor are in the public interest.

“As I am sure you are aware, the construction of an emergency road for the residents of King Cove is very important to me. As it stands now, the residents of King Cove live only a few short miles from an all-weather airport, but are often unable to access it in emergency situations due to inclement weather,” Murkowski said. “I firmly believe that we should actually protect the residents of this small Alaskan village and provide them access to life saving health care. One more death related to an emergency evacuation is simply unacceptable – especially when the solution is so simple.”

Murkowski said the people of King Cove are being put at risk because the federal government claims a road would threaten the local bird population, but the government appears to have a different standard when it comes to the harming of federally protected eagles when it furthers its clean energy goals.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates wind turbines in the United States kill more than 444,000 birds a year. With more than 100,000 turbines expected to be in operation by 2030, the number of bird deaths is expected to exceed 1 million annually.                                                                                                 

More information on the King Cove road can be found at the Senate Energy and Natural Resources website