Murkowski goal is to open ANWR
Alaska Sen. Frank Murkowski returns to familiar turf in the new Congress this year. He again chairs the Senate Energy and Resources Committee, a panel of considerable importance in resource-rich Alaska. One of Murkowski’s top priorities remains the opening of the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration.
A national energy bill will be introduced soon and will be an early agenda item in the Resources Committee, he said. ANWR will inevitably be a part of that. Energy has been identified as one of five top priorities for action in the new Congress, Murkowski said.
The senator doesn’t want to push too far on ANWR until he is able to bring uncommitted senators to Alaska in late spring or early summer to see the coastal plain. That will help build support for the initiative, he said.
One of Murkowski’s key priorities, establishment of a new Environmental Protection Agency Region 11 in Alaska, may be more favorably viewed in the new Bush administration than under President Clinton. A lot will depend on how new EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman looks at the question, Murkowski said.
Interestingly, a executive order establishing a Region 11 was one of the last actions of the administration of George Bush, father of the incoming president. However, the order was never implemented by the Clinton administration.
Murkowski thinks there’s enough justification for the new region because Alaska environmental issues are much different than those dealt with in the other Pacific Northwest states in Region 10.
But there are some Alaskans who are skeptical of the idea, Murkowski admitted. "There are some people who worry about having the regulators too close at hand," he said.
The North Slope natural gas pipeline and trans-Alaska pipeline right of way renewal will both be of considerable interest to the Senate committee.
"It’s unfortunate timing that both are on us at virtually the same time," Murkowski said.
On a national level, electrical deregulation and nuclear waste issues will continue as priorities for the committee. Deregulation of electricity has become a mess in California, and problems Californians are having with price and supply of power are beginning to spill over into other regions, Murkowski said.
Washington and Oregon residents are now beginning to worry about whether they should allow electricity produced in their states to be exported to other states.
Murkowski will also continue to work on an Alaska-Canada rail connection, a long-time priority. He expects members of a joint U.S.-Canada rail study commission to be appointed, and for the commission to begin work this year.