Dollars flow north
Alaska Rep. Don Young has a new assignment in Congress: chairman of the House Transportation Committee. Given Alaskans’ concerns with maritime, surface and aviation issues, this committee is fully as important to the state as the Resources Committee that Young chaired in the last Congress.
Young remains a member of the Resources Committee, and as the ranking Republican, will be vice chairman of that committee, now chaired by Rep. Jim Hansen, a Republican from Utah.
Several of Young’s key Alaska staff have been brought from Resources over to Transportation, including Chief of Staff Lloyd Jones, formerly a state senator from Ketchikan, Mike Henry, chief counsel Liz Meggison and Steve Hansen, who will handle public information for the Transportation Committee.
One of the Alaska resource issues the congressman may deal with soon is lining up co-sponsors for his HR39, a bill introduced as the new Congress convened that would open the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to exploration, according to Chris Fluhr, a Resources Committee staff member assigned to Alaska issues.
The same bill was sponsored by Young last year and had 45 co-sponsors and many more interested in the measure. But given the certainty of a veto by President Clinton, Young did not attempt to move the bill out of Resources last year. This year may be different, with a new Republican administration in power.
There may be much more interest in the issue in Congress this year, given the gravity of the nation’s energy supply situation, Fluhr said. Young held hearings on national energy policy last year in which ANWR was the main topic.
Another key issue the Resources Committee may tackle is the new roadless initiative Clinton recently put in place banning road building in several national forests, including the Tongass and Chugach forests in Alaska. Hansen is keenly interested in this because of the effects in his home state of Idaho.
Young feels that the Clinton administration double-crossed Alaskans by first promising to exclude the Tongass, then saying the roadless policy would take effect in four years, and finally imposing it immediately. Legislation is a possibility, but Fluhr said the Bush administration may choose to undo the regulations through administrative action.
But this will take time because a clear policy reason for the action must be established, and then rule-making procedures carefully followed to avoid lawsuits from environmental groups, he said.
For Alaska, the most expedient course may be through the lawsuits being pursued by the state of Alaska. There is a clear legal argument against the roadless plan in the Alaska national forests through the "no more" clause of the 1980 Alaska National Lands Conservation Lands Act, Fluhr said.
Another key Alaska issue being followed through the Resources Committee is the environmentalists’ initiatives being pursued under the Endangered Species Act, not just with Steller sea lions but also Cook Inlet beluga whales, Steller and spectacled eiders and Aleutian sea otters.
Alaska priorities in the Transportation Committee are still being worked out, according to Steve Hansen, spokesman for the committee. One of the early issues the committee may take up is increased funding for the U.S. Coast Guard, not only for its day-to-day operations but for upgrades to vessels, aircraft and search and rescue capability as well, Hansen said. This will benefit the Coast Guard presence in Alaska, he said.
Aviation will be another area the committee will be working on this year, including issues of airline competition and consolidation and essential air service, a matter of importance to smaller Alaska communities. The committee also has jurisdiction over pipeline operations and safety, including the trans-Alaska pipeline system, Hansen said. Reauthorization of the pipeline right of way lease is an issue Young will be watching closely, but it may not require legislation.
The 1973 authorization act included provisions for administrative renewal of the right of way in 2004. Unless environmental lawsuits bog the process down, Congress may not have to intervene, Fluhr said.