Focusing on business big and small during August recess
Alaska U.S. Sen. Mark Begich and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., receive a briefing on the Fire Island wind project from Cook Inlet Region Inc. President and CEO Margie Brown during the August recess.
Courtesy of Sen. Mark Begich
Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of reports by the Congressional delegation on the August recess. Rep. Don Young’s will run in our Sept. 23 issue.
The August congressional recess is an excellent opportunity for me to head home for the month and talk to Alaskans about their needs, concerns, and what they want to see from Washington and Congress.
I spent my time seeing familiar faces over the long summer days, meeting with local community and business leaders, barbequing with family and friends, and discussing the issues most important to our unique state. It made for an informative and warm homecoming.
My staff and I also set out on our “Growing Alaska” tour where we sent both Alaska and Washington-based staff to hold mobile office hours and meet with local businesses and community leaders from Ambler to Kodiak. As a team, we visited more than 60 communities and met with hundreds of people.
One of my first trips in August was to Cold Bay on the Coast Guard cutter Bertholf. The Bertholf is a critical piece of the Coast Guard’s Arctic Shield mission which will increase its presence in the Arctic, an indication that Alaska’s northernmost shores are seeing more traffic and more development. Sen. Murkowski and I were pleased to join Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Robert Papp, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on the Bertholf for an overview of the Coast Guard’s critical role in our state.
Alaskans everywhere tell me they want to see Alaska’s vast resources developed and developed responsibly. As I write, Shell’s rigs are preparing to begin drilling operations in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, and I am confident we will see that responsible development Alaska is known for moving forward in the Arctic.
In Anchorage, I held a roundtable discussion with local business leaders and job creators to discuss potential markets, particularly Hawaii and Japan, for Alaska’s rich supply of natural gas.
I was joined by representatives from the governments of both Japan and Hawaii, as well as local leaders from industry. While still in its early stages, I am eager to further discuss this idea. Hawaii understands, like Alaska, that as non-contiguous states, the cost of energy and the cost of bringing resources to our communities is greater and more complicated than in the Lower 48.
Exploring future uses of Alaska LNG is important as we look for ways to reduce costs and use more domestic energy supplies.
The Growing Alaska tour was successful as my staff and I talked to small business owners and operators across the state about what’s working and not working when it comes to growing, expanding and hiring more workers. We saw some amazing success stories in every community, and in many areas the importance of getting broadband Internet to our schools and towns was a hot topic.
To explore solutions to these challenges, I invited Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel to Alaska to meet with educators, Alaska Native leaders, and state and local officials. One point became clear: when it comes to Alaska, a one-size-fits-all approach from the federal government just won’t do.
I thank Commissioner Rosenworcel for her in-depth understanding of the various telecommunication obstacles in our state, like lack of roads and infrastructure. I’m looking forward to working with her and the FCC to expand telecom services to every corner of Alaska.
The rich, unrivaled culture and kindness of Alaska was apparent everywhere the Growing Alaska tour stopped. Alaskans welcomed my staff with open arms and proudly showed them their towns. From community libraries to student art projects made of marine debris, Alaskans prove their resourcefulness and creativity again and again.
In Nome, there are thriving small businesses and impressive progress being made on the new hospital (which kindly housed my staff during flight cancellations). In other communities we saw the unique and creative ways that Alaskans have found to deliver health care. At the Glennallen chiropractic clinic, which functions as an overall wellness center with classes for disabled children, Sheila Hay also runs a successful smoothie and organic food shop. Its success highlights the importance of preventative care and the vital role our small businesses play in our state.
We also saw progress in the way the state receives energy. In Cantwell, my staff saw firsthand the windmills financed by the Recovery Act which now power Cantwell’s tribal hall. Similar efforts to diversify our energy sources are being seen on Fire Island, where Cook Inlet Region Inc. is putting in a wind farm, just outside Anchorage.
To highlight Alaska’s commitment to energy independence, I invited Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, a top member on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee in the U.S. Senate, on a tour of Fire Island’s new wind turbines. This was followed by an in-depth discussion on our Bipartisan Tax Fairness and Simplification bill. The bill will reduce tax rates for individuals and families and keep it simple and fair for Americans. A highlight of the bill is the use of one, easy tax form which is clean and simple, whether you’re a billionaire or a middle class American.
It was a busy and productive month. I look forward to seeing you on another trip home soon.
Mark Begich is the junior U.S. Senator from Alaska.