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Murkowski Saves Program to Help Alaska Communities Facing High Energy Costs

Aug. 3, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, successfully turned back an effort by the White House and a leading senator to strike a $17.5 million high energy cost grant program important to Alaska rural communities that was included in a $124.5 billion Senate Agriculture Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2010 under debate in the Senate.

U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, offered an amendment to strike the high energy cost provision sponsored by Murkowski, saying that the grant program was duplicative. 

But Murkowski, in a floor speech, said the program was authorized by Congress in the 2000 Rural Electrification Act because it “covered a gap in existing programs that desperately needed to be filled.”

“Now, this amendment might not only kill this program in the future but also might pull the rug out from under ongoing projects dependent on federal funding to be completed,” Murkowski said.

Alaska has historically received about half of the total appropriation for this program. McCain’s amendment failed on a 55 to 41 vote.

The high energy cost grant program provides grants to build, extend or upgrade energy generation, transmission or distribution facilities serving communities in which the average residential home energy costs are 275 percent above the national average. President Obama’s proposed FY 2010 budget earlier this year eliminated the program but Murkowski, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, put the funding back in. The White House also argued that the program duplicated an existing loan guarantee program.

The Senate Agriculture, Rural Development and Food and Drug Administration Appropriations bill could come up for a final vote as early as Tuesday.

The legislation also includes $70 million for rural water and waste water disposal grants for Native Americans, including Native Alaskans, the Colonias and residents of Hawaiian Homelands. Alaska would get about $24.5 million of that total.

“This program has resulted in substantial improvements in the health, safety and well being of thousands of Alaskans,” Murkowski said. “However, some 20 percent of homes in rural Alaska still lack basic sanitation, and a number of the early water systems are aging and cannot handle the current need. This is vitally needed funding that I was glad to be able to secure.”

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