Murkowski to Question Interior Nominee on King Cove, Alaskan Concerns
Calls Emergency Road Decision “Exhibit A of Federal Overreach”
WASHINGTON, D.C. – After weeks of publicly raising Alaskans’ concerns toward the Interior Department’s agenda and decision-making, Senator Lisa Murkowski will have the opportunity to ask questions directly of Interior Secretary nominee Sally Jewell tomorrow morning.
Murkowski is expected to drill down on the recent King Cove road access decision – along with a number of other Alaskan-focused federal land use concerns – in her capacity as the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where the nominee will testify Thursday.
“I could not feel more strongly that the Fish and Wildlife Service’s recent decision was wrong, and that if allowed to stand it would have grave consequences for the people of King Cove,” Murkowski wrote previously to Jewell. “As such, I am prepared to consider all actions available to me as a U.S. senator to convince this administration that denying the people of King Cove reliable access to medical care would be a travesty.”
“The reason we need that road is simple: lives are genuinely at stake,” Murkowski said. “That road would give anyone who is injured or ill a much better chance of surviving.”
The hearing will begin at 6am, Alaska time, with video made available soon after its conclusion.
Murkowski said she hopes the issue is resolved before Jewell’s nomination comes up for a vote. Current Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has the authority to override the USFWS recommendation and determine the road is in the public interest.
“I hope that Secretary Salazar will instead look into his heart, make the right decision, and allow the land exchange and the road to proceed,” Murkowski said. “Until he rights that wrong, King Cove will stand as Exhibit A of federal overreach and the harm it causes.”
Murkowski will call on Jewell to restore balance to the various missions and interests of the Department of the Interior.
“I need her to affirm that public lands provide not just a playground for recreational enthusiasts, but also paychecks for countless energy producers, miners, loggers and ranchers,” Murkowski said.
Murkowski’s letters to Jewell and the administration, and a fact sheet about the land exchange, are available on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee website.
The land exchange, which was approved by Congress in 2009, would add 56,000 acres of state and tribal lands to the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge on the Alaska Peninsula and allow the community of King Cove to build a single-lane, gravel road through 206 acres of the refuge to the all-weather airport in Cold Bay for emergency medical evacuation purposes.
A number of deaths have been attributed to the lack of road access to the Cold Bay airport over the past 30 years. The worst accident occurred in 1981 when a plane crashed during an attempted medical evacuation, killing all four people onboard.
The Fish and Wildlife Service recently issued a final environmental impact statement that identified its preferred alternative as one that does not support allowing the land exchange and emergency access road to go forward.
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