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Murkowski to Interior: Legacy Well Proposal “Dead On Arrival”

Senator Criticizes Administration on “Insult” Suggesting Alaska Pay for Federal Obligations

WASHINGTON, D.C. –Senator Lisa Murkowski today criticized the Interior Department’s budget proposal for attempting to make Alaska pay for the decades-old broken promises of the federal government.

“There are two proposals in this request that are frankly an insult to the people of Alaska,” Murkowski said. “I’m speaking particularly of the legislative proposals concerning future funding for the cleanup of ‘legacy wells’ in the National Petroleum Reserve and the completion of surveys necessary to convey final patents to the state of Alaska and Alaska Natives.”

“This proposal is dead on arrival” – CLICK to watch video

Interior’s 2014 budget proposal calls for taking Alaska’s 50-percent share of revenue from oil and natural gas activity in the NPR-A to pay for the cleanup of legacy wells drilled decades ago by the federal government and for completing land conveyances owed to the state and Alaska Natives since as far back as statehood in 1959.

“This budget proposes to take the state’s share of future revenues generated from the NPR-A to pay for the cost of cleanup. In other words, the budget proposes to charge the state for the federal government’s mess. Let me speak as plainly as I can, this proposal is dead on arrival,” Murkowski said. “Likewise, the notion that the state must pay for the final lands entitled to it under the Statehood Act is equally wrongheaded. This has been a problem for decades. My staff has searched and can find no other state in the nation that was ever asked to effectively pay to gain the lands promised them when they joined the Union – not Arizona, or New Mexico, or Florida, or California – no one. And we’re not going to start with Alaska.”

Murkowski raised her concerns with newly appointed Interior Secretary Sally Jewell at Tuesday’s hearing before the Senate Appropriations Interior and Environment Subcommittee.

Legacy Wells

From 1944 to 1981, the federal government drilled more than 100 wells in the NPR-A, and then simply abandoned them. The annual budget for the Bureau of Land Management, which is responsible for the legacy wells, has for many years requested funding of only about $1 million for cleaning up the wells. However, the last two sites cost the agency $2 million each to remediate to acceptable standards.

“At this pace, it will take over 100 years to clean up this mess,” Murkowski said. “Interestingly, if the federal government were a private company operating on state lands, the fines would exceed $8 billion dollars, but the federal government is exempt from state regulation on its own lands.”

Senator Murkowski questions Secretary Jewell on legacy well proposal – CLICK to watch

Alaska Land Conveyance Program

The federal government’s conveyance program of land owed to Alaska and Alaska Natives is mandated under the 1958 Alaska Statehood Act and the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA).

In 2004, Congress passed the Alaska Land Transfer Acceleration Act in an effort to complete conveyances by the 50th anniversary of statehood in 2009. That goal was not met and for the last several years, the department has annually slashed the budget request for the conveyance program even though the state is still waiting for title to more than 37 million acres of its lands and Alaska Natives are awaiting final transfer of 11.4 million acres – fully one-quarter of their lands. 

Senator Murkowski questions Secretary Jewell on land conveyance issues – CLICK to watch

The Interior bill funds the four major federal land management agencies in Alaska. The Interior Department manages 220 million acres of land in Alaska. Alaska holds the nation’s largest national wildlife refuge – Alaska land makes up 85 percent of the entire refuge system – the nation’s largest national park, and, at more than 75 million acres, nearly a third of all BLM lands. 

Murkowski, as the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, holds both authorizing power and budgetary oversight of the Department of the Interior.

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