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About time Murkowski takes the gloves off in dealing with Interior

  • Author: Paul Jenkins
  • Updated: June 29, 2016
  • Published February 21, 2015

An angry Sen. Lisa Murkowski finally has Interior Secretary Sally Jewell's attention -- and all it took was a not-so-veiled threat to bite a chunk out of Jewell's department budget.

Murkowski has had a snootful of the Obama administration's myopic energy policies and view of Alaska as a second-class colony with interests subordinate to whatever green whim is très chic at the moment. Like most right-thinking people, she apparently trusts the Obamas and Jewells as most of us trust gas station sushi.

That is bad news for Jewell, notoriously tone deaf about all things Alaska, because Murkowski chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which oversees Interior's budget. Her angst about Jewell's continuing disconnect with Alaska surfaced in, of all places, wind-blown Kotzebue at a two-day Alaska Federation of Natives board retreat.

The closed-door gathering featured speeches from Jewell, Alaska's congressional delegation, Alaska legislative leaders, Gov. Bill Walker and others. For all we know, they talked about an alien invasion. (Where were media howls about being locked out, with reporters, by one account, reduced to a "receiving line" for officials coming and going?)

What we are allowed to know is that Murkowski afterward mentioned maybe squeezing Interior's budget to rein in the agency.

That pierced the void. Jewell, who seems inclined to blow off Murkowski, wants us to know Alaska jobs are at risk if her budget is zapped, and, really, she says, she is not anti-development, no siree, Bob, and, gee whiz, you guys can explore over here or dig over there -- wherever she says, of course -- and her agency's work is really, really important to Alaska, and, golly, can't we have a thoughtful budget dialogue? She's hopeful, she says, that the mean ol' senator doesn't hurt her agency. Oh, and, hey, get over it; we're cool, right? Let's talk about climate change.

I know what I would tell her highness: Tough noogies.

Interior's budget should have been gutted the day Jewell refused the Aleut fishing village of King Cove 200 lousy acres to build a single-lane, medical emergency road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge to connect with an all-weather runway at nearby Cold Bay.

When she killed the road as a sop to greenies she callously endangered every man, woman and child who needs a medevac from the village during the region's ferocious storms. There have been at least 16 such life-saving evacuations -- many by Coast Guard helicopters in the worst weather imaginable -- since her refusal.

Worse, when she buried the road, she promised villagers an alternative. She has done nothing -- and she frets about her budget.

Murkowski's growing frustration is justified. The Obama administration's affronts to Alaska are boundless. The Environmental Protecton Agency wants to kill the Pebble Mine even before it can apply for permits. Interior wants to restrict oil and gas development in the South Carolina-sized Arctic National Wildlife Refuge -- seeking to designate more than 12 million acres, including the barren 1.5 million-acre coastal plain, as wilderness, cutting off access to perhaps 10 billion of barrels of oil. All that in a resources-rich, oil-dependent state facing a $3.5 billion budget deficit, stagnant oil production and iffy prices.

The administration also wants to put off-limits vast swaths of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas where there are another 27 billion barrels of oil.

Instead of ANWR or the Arctic Ocean, Jewell says, Alaska should be focusing on the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska -- but our federal masters locked up nearly half the 23.5 million-acre reserve west of Prudhoe Bay in 2010, and federal agencies have stalled permits since. Expensive Bureau of Land Management mitigation measures are jeopardizing ConocoPhillips' project there.

When it comes down to it, only dopes who see Alaska as a vast federal park care much about Jewell's budget. No money for her, after all, means money in the bank for Alaska.

Murkowski gets that. She says she is fighting for land access, and she told the Alaska Dispatch News, "this is what we need to be fighting for. I'm not going to be fighting for some short-term job for a bureaucrat." She says Jewell will be coming before her committee and promises "it won't be her favorite day in Washington, D.C."

Good for the senator. No more Ms. Nice Guy when it comes to high-handed bureaucrats who make gas station sushi seem somehow not so bad. And good for Alaska.

Paul Jenkins is editor of the AnchorageDailyPlanet, a division of Porcaro Communications.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com

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