Sen. Murkowski Highlights Lands Package’s Importance to the West

NDAA Title Will Provide Economic Opportunities, Create Jobs in Western States

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today spoke on the floor of the U.S. Senate about the importance of Title 30 – a package of public lands bills – within the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2015. Murkowski highlighted the title’s importance to federal oil and gas permitting, grazing, mining, and other economic and community development opportunities in western states.   

(Click for video of Sen. Murkowski’s floor speech)

“After months of negotiations, we have agreed to this balanced, revenue-neutral, bicameral, and bipartisan package,” Murkowski said. “These provisions will create thousands of American jobs, cut red tape to energy production, and boost American mineral production. They protect multiple-use and public recreation, convey federal land for economic and community development, protect treasured lands, and provide new means for private dollars to support our national parks.”

Murkowski explained that while the federal government owns 640 million acres nationwide, 93 percent of those lands are clustered in just 12 western states. Those high levels of federal ownership significantly increase the need for legislation for everything from resource production to land conveyances, and result in hundreds of public lands bills being introduced each Congress.    

Throughout her statement, Murkowski highlighted the benefits the package would provide, including transfering nearly 110,000 acres of federal land into private or state hands through conveyances, exchanges, or sales. More than 26,000 acres of land are also released from wilderness study back into multiple use, which could facilitate transmission lines and motorized recreation.

“We have included a bipartisan provision to streamline oil and gas permitting on federal lands,” Murkowski said. “We have included a provision to address the backlog of grazing permit renewals for western ranchers, to ease their burdens, and another provision to help prevent the collapse of the timber industry in Southeast Alaska.” 

Murkowski also addressed concerns that the public lands package might add to the maintenance backlog of the National Park Service (NPS) and other federal land management agencies by creating new wilderness and new parks.

“This is a balanced, revenue-neutral package,” Murkowski explained. “We have taken great care to make sure it is not simply a conglomeration of new wilderness and new parks. In western states, in particular, virtually none of us would support that type of package.”

Murkowski further highlighted the strong protections that she and others who crafted the package included for private property interests, noting that, “We have forbidden the use of eminent domain and the condemnation of private property. We have also set a positive precedent by eliminating the potential use of buffer zones around designated lands.” 

Native American rights and recreational, sport, and hunting users are also fully protected by provisions in the title, Murkowski explained during her remarks.  

With time running out in this Congress, Murkowski urged her colleagues to support the package, rather than resetting the clock and returning to the bills within it at the start of next year.

“This package is the result of bipartisan and bicameral negotiations – weeks of meetings among the members and staff of the committees of jurisdiction, the committees who have crafted the overall NDAA bill, leadership in both chambers, and a wide range of individual members,” Murkowski said. “Our final result is hardly a rush to judgment, but instead the end of a long and actually very traditional process. We have considered, debated, and amended these provisions over the course of the Congress, using the Committee process and the House and Senate floor when we could.” 

Murkowski pointed out that every bill within the public lands package has already been reviewed by the committees of jurisdiction, including at least 30 that have already passed the House and seven that have passed the Senate.

“We don’t need to start over, working on the same bills in a new Congress,” Murkowski said. “It’s time to finish this. It’s time to pass these reasonable measures. I encourage the Senate to support this package as it is – as part of the larger NDAA bill – so that we can fulfill our responsibility to western states in a timely manner.”